BOSTON — Reversing course once again, Massachusetts’ welfare agency made available new details Friday about state benefits received by the family of the Boston bombing suspects, saying public interest in the case trumped the privacy rights of Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev.
Questions about the brothers’ time on welfare began to surface Wednesday when the Boston Herald reported that they had received benefits through other family members and the state confirmed some of the details. But the next day, the department said it had made a mistake and should have refrained from releasing the benefits information because of state and federal privacy rules.
On Friday, however, a letter from the interim commissioner of the state Department of Transitional Assistance, Stacey Monahan, was released to the news media along with an explanation from her that she now believed “the public interest outweighs the privacy interests of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in this instance.”
Neither of the Tsarnaev brothers ever was a direct recipient of welfare benefits, she wrote to state Rep. David Linsky, chairman of the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee, in response to the panel’s request for records of public assistance received by the suspects or their family.
The brothers had, however, received benefits through their parents, and Tamerlan also received benefits from September 2011 to November 2012 through his wife, according to the letter dated Thursday.
According to the letter, the suspects’ parents, Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev, received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, from 2002 to 2004, and again from August 2009 to December 2011. Anzor Tsarnaev also received cash welfare benefits for three months in 2003, and from August 2009 to June 2010.
The parents were eligible for benefits because they were legal, non-citizen residents who were granted asylum status, Monahan wrote. The brothers, she said, were also residing legally in the country.
Dhokhar Tsarnaev received benefits as a member of his parents’ household, as did Tamerlan, the older brother, for a period of time, according to the agency. Tamerlan lived with his wife and daughter when his wife was granted both SNAP and cash assistance for families with dependent children from September 2011 to November 2012.
Neither brother was receiving any benefits at the time of the Marathon bombing, the letter reiterated.
Police said Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a gunfight with police in Watertown last week and Dhokhar was later found hiding in boat and captured. He was transferred Friday from a Boston hospital to a federal prison medical center in Devens.