BOSTON — Republican leaders in the state House and Senate, including Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, who raised the issue Wednesday, are pressing the Patrick administration to compile detailed information on the type and amount of public assistance benefits paid to the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones said he contacted the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to request that the administration delve deeper into the welfare assistance provided by Massachusetts to dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his family in the years leading up to the April 15 terror attack.
Jones also asked that the Department of Transitional Assistance verify whether all family members met eligibility requirements when applying for public benefits.
“The findings of the investigation are vitally important in assuring that taxpayer subsidized benefits are being acquired and used in an appropriate manner,” Jones said in a statement Wednesday.
Tarr, R-Gloucester, reiterated his concerns, calling it “angering to see that those who perpetrated such a merciless and cowardly act of terrorism had been receiving state benefits funded by public dollars.”
Health and Human Services spokesman Alec Loftus has confirmed that the families of bombing suspects Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were recipients of public welfare assistance. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who lived in Cambridge, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was a student at UMass-Dartmouth, received benefits through their parents when they were younger.
Loftus said that the Tsarnaevs’ parents were former recipients of transitional assistance benefits and that, separately, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his family received benefits until 2012, “when the family became ineligible based on their income.”
“The brothers were not receiving transitional assistance benefits at the time of the incident and have not received any transitional assistance benefits this year,” he said.
Asked Wednesday about the duration and amount of benefits received by the Tsarneov families, Loftus did not provide that information and indicated he did not expect to have any further details to release.
Over the course of the first two days of debate on the House budget proposal, Republicans have repeatedly hammered Democrats for raising taxes at time when they say $1.8 billion is being spent annually on benefits to recipients they say are undeserving. And the questions are not being raised solely by Republicans.
State Rep. Jim Lyons, D-Andover, Rep. Marc Lombardo, D-Billerica, and Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, D-Taunton, had planned to hold a press conference at the start of the House debate on Wednesday to highlight what they see as unnecessary and fraudulent spending by the Patrick administration. But the press event in the State House was cancelled when no reporters showed up.
Lyons later told the News Service he wasn’t sure whether the event would be rescheduled, but the lawmakers were attempting to draw attention resources that could be available without new taxes if government oversight improved.
“They don’t know where the money is going and that’s not fair, it’s wrong,” Lyons said.
Lyons said the Republicans sent a letter to Gov. Patrick in January asking the administration to break out individual welfare benefits being paid through a variety of programs, and asked that the report be completed by April 1. Though the administration on at least two occasions promised the information would be provided, Lyons said he still hasn’t received it.
“What we’re saying is, governor, just tell us. You know where the money is going so tell us so we can tell the taxpayers. We’re taking their hard earned dollars and giving them to individuals breaking the rules,” Lyons said.
In addition to welfare fraud, the Republican lawmakers intended to highlight money being wasted from the evidence scandal at a state-run drug crime lab, $273 million in health care benefits going to underserving recipients and what Lyons described as an “explosion” of $100,000-salaried jobs under the Patrick administration.
“Those are the issues we’re talking about. We don’t need to raise taxes. We shouldn’t be raising taxes by $500 million on taxpayers of the Commonwealth,” Lyons said.
Lyons said he was “stunned” when he read that the Tsarnaev brothers had received public benefits, but admitted he did not yet know whether they had qualified properly for the public assistance.
“The fact that our tax dollars are going to those that are vicious murderers I think it’s just horrific,” he said. “You think of the victims and the families and to know benefits are going to people like that it’s awful. It really points to the fact that we have to demand more from the Patrick administration.”
Separately yesterday, Middlesex County prosecutors say they’re building a murder case against the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings for the death of an MIT police officer.
Authorities have said Sean Collier was ambushed and killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev while Collier was in his cruiser the night of April 18. Tamerlan died hours later following a shootout with police in Watertown. Dzhokhar was captured the next day hiding in a boat in a backyard.
Spokeswoman Stephanie Guyotte said Middlesex County prosecutors have been gathering evidence in the slaying of the 27-year-old officer and expect to file charges against Tsarnaev. She said they have no specific timeline for filing charges.
Tsarnaev already faces federal charges in the April 15 bombings that killed three people — charges could carry the death penalty.