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June 18, 2013

Dempsey doubles down on welfare card reform

Bill focuses on ID cards, enforcement

BOSTON — State Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill is doubling down on a proposal to reform the state’s welfare benefit card program and crack down on fraud.

A proposal in the House budget would create a separate bureau in the Inspector’s General’s Office to monitor welfare programs and require the Department of Transitional Assistance to issue photo ID cards for electronic benefit transfer card recipients.

But because the measure was not included in the Senate budget proposal, its survival in the final spending plan being negotiated by senior legislators in both branches is uncertain.

For that reason, Dempsey, D-Haverhill, said he filed a supplemental budget bill yesterday that includes the key provisions of the House welfare reform proposal. Dempsey, chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said lawmakers will begin debating the bill today.

In essence, the bill provides a second opportunity for the House EBT proposal to reach Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk.

“The House’s main objective is getting to the issue of fraud and abuse in the system,” Dempsey said. “Our proposal implements policies that establish oversight of (the Department of Transitional Assistance) and require stronger verification procedures, while punishing and rooting out those abusing the system.”

The bill includes new requirements for verifying eligibility and stricter penalties for fraud. It also bans the use of out-of-state EBT cards, with the exception of states that border Massachusetts. The Department of Transitional Assistance would also be mandated to develop a better system, including using fingerprint analysis, for catching people trafficking in EBT cards.

Republican state Rep. Bradley Jones Jr., the House minority leader, crossed over the aisle to endorse Dempsey’s bill.

“By joining House Republicans in our ongoing attempt to overhaul and reform the Electronic Benefits Transfer program, Democratic leadership has finally heeded the call of the residents of the commonwealth in ensuring that taxpayer-funded benefits are reserved for those who truly need them,” Jones said a written statement.

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