Capitol Alert

Disabled placards for thousands of dead Californians part of program abuse

California’s Department of Motor Vehicles needs to significantly beef up efforts to prevent fraud and abuse in the state’s disabled person placard program, a new state audit recommends, noting that officials accept applications lacking required medical documentation, issue too many duplicates, and fail to cancel the placards of people who have died.

Almost 3 million people had disabled placards or special license plates as of June 2016, according to Tuesday’s Bureau of State Audits report. The placards allow people to use reserved parking spaces and exempt them from meters and parking-limit requirements.

Yet hundreds of thousands of the placards could be in use illegally, based on auditors’ sampling of records. The audit found multiple problems with the DMV’s administration of the program, beginning with its handling of placard applications. In a sample of 96 applications, nearly three-quarters lacked a full description of the illness or disability being used as the basis for the request, auditors found. Similarly, the agency lacks procedures to weed out applications with forged medical provider signatures.

In addition, the agency has not canceled the placards of thousands of people who likely have died. Auditors found that 26,000 placard holders – if they are still alive – would be 100 or older. As of 2014, California’s entire centenarian population stood at an estimated 8,000 people.

And when local parking enforcement officers conduct sting operations to punish people illegally using the placards, they cannot easily verify placards. Only sworn police officers can access the information, and auditors found that most parking officers do not contact law enforcement to find out if placards are valid, citing a time-consuming process.

Auditors also did their own checks. In a survey of six blocks in downtown Sacramento last January, auditors found that 37 of 69 parked cars had disabled placards or plates, and one of the placards had been canceled after being reported stolen and “thus was being misused.”

“It is reasonable to conclude that some people are fraudulently using canceled placards when parking their vehicles in order to take advantage of free or convenient parking,” the audit said.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee ordered Tuesday’s audit last spring at the request of former lawmakers Eric Linder, R-Corona, and Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles.

The report recommends that lawmakers pass legislation to require the DMV to conduct quarterly audits of the placard program, regularly match placard holders against the the U.S. Social Security Administration’s death file, and to require applicants to include their full name and date of birth on their applications.

Also, the audit said the DMV should ask health boards to review a sample of placard applications to check if they meet state requirements.

In its response, the DMV concurred with the auditors’ recommendations.