Wrongly discarded documents containing the private information of food stamp recipients and others was lost - and at least partially recovered Monday - after being blown onto Baton Rouge streets.
The area director for the state Department of Children and Family Services, called DCFS, and the office manager of the department’s economic stability office on North Boulevard in Baton Rouge were suspended, with pay, pending ongoing investigations, said DCFS Secretary Ruth Johnson late Monday afternoon.
The names of those suspended were not released. Johnson cited private personnel matters.
“We will absolutely not tolerate this kind of violation of client personal information in DCFS,” Johnson said. “It was a clear breach of policy and protocol.”
More trash bags of improperly disposed data were recovered Monday in a dumpster outside the office, Johnson said. The data has since been properly secured, she said.
The information for 67 individuals and families that was blown down the street, and later recovered, included social security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers, and other personal information, she said.
The data included people on food stamps, child-care assistance and the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program, called FITAP.
Most of the information is at least eight years old, Johnson said Those who were impacted are being contracted, including current and outdated cases.
Johnson said she believes the problem is an “isolated incident” at this one office. Construction is ongoing at the North Boulevard facility and there is a new dumpster temporarily out front where the data was improperly disposed. Johnson said it may have been thrown out by cleaning crews accidentally.
The state’s data destruction policy only allows for documents to be shredded, burned or destroyed with chemicals.
The office has roughly 20,000 current case files now, Johnson said.
The data was believed to have blown out of the dumpster during the weekend and traveled a few blocks, she said. The documents were picked up by an area resident, who took the private information to WAFB-TV.
Johnson said there is an internal investigation ongoing, and that the state Attorney General’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General also were contacted to help monitor for any “fraudulent” uses of the information.
Johnson said every state DCSF is being updated on policies and that new safeguards will be put into place.
Anyone with any concerns is asked to call 1-888-LA-HELP-U, or 1-888-524-3578. Select options one, four and one to speak to a customer service representative, she said.
Concerned clients also can contact their credit bureaus to have alerts placed on their accounts that lasts 90 days. They can also contact their financial institutions to have their accounts monitored, she said.