EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 18, 2013

Dempsey doubles down on welfare card reform

Bill focuses on ID cards, enforcement

By Shawn Regan

---- — 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.

Key items of House welfare card reform

Require a photo to be placed on EBT cards for each eligible household member over age 18 and set a timeline for implementing

Establish better computer tracking of beneficiaries, including cross-checking social security numbers and sharing tax return information with agencies monitoring eligibility

Suspend and disqualify violators

Implement technology to reject prohibited items from being purchased with EBT cards and increase fines on retailers who violate rules

Require Department of Transitional Assistance to submit annual report to House and Senate budget committees by Nov. 1

Require DTA to consider business assets of recipients, including in some cases the income of relatives and sponsors of immigrants, and require proof of income and assets in certain circumstances

Establish task force made up of state auditor, attorney general, inspector general, treasurer, and secretary of administration and finance to monitor welfare programs.