EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 16, 2013

Senator files bill to combat EBT fraud

By Douglas Moser

---- — Newly elected State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives has filed legislation to require photo identification on state electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards and to make it easier for the public to report fraud.

The proposal gained the support of several Democrats, including newly-elected State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and state Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester.

“I think there will be bipartisan support for comprehensive welfare reform,” O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said. “Resources in the state are scarce and I think everybody can get on board with taking the measures necessary so people can have confidence in the system again.”

O’Connor Ives represents Methuen, Haverhill, Newburyport, Amesbury, Salisbury, Merrimac, and about half of North Andover. Elected last November, she succeeded Steven Baddour, who resigned to take a job with a Boston law firm.

If passed, the bill would add the recipient’s photograph to the card, a bid to reduce fraudulent use of a card.

Legislation passed last year required the Department of Transitional Services, which oversees the EBT system, to charge a $5 replacement fee for lost cards, track the number of replacement cards sent to recipients and monitor multiple replacement requests from a given recipient in a single year.

O’Connor Ives and DiZoglio said they had heard from constituents who were concerned about EBT fraud.

“In general, what I have heard from constituents is that they genuinely want to help those who are truly in need. It is hearing about fraud and abuse that people are fed up with,” DiZoglio said. “There is a big difference between encouraging and enabling. I am taking strong steps this session to make sure additional EBT card reforms take place. This is one of several bills that I have signed onto to increase transparency and help bring more accountability to the system.”

In addition to the photo ID on the card, the bill would require retailers that accept EBT cards to post the state fraud hotline for other customers who witness improper use of the cards. It also require a list of the items that cannot be purchased with an EBT card to be included with application and renewal forms.

EBT cards are issued by the state to recipients of welfare, food assistance, and disabled and elderly assistance programs to use in place of receiving benefits by check.

Earlier this month, the state Inspector General’s Office released a report on its review of eligibility of public assistance payments to low-income families with children, known as Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

It concluded that mistakes at the Department of Transitional Assistance in eligibility verification — including undisclosed assets like real property and vehicles, undisclosed employment income, and missing verification of residency, participation in work programs, citizenship or immigration status – costs the commonwealth $25 million per year and, if those verifications were done properly, could result in nearly 9 percent of current recipients losing access to benefits.

“When the Inspector General report came out revealing the $25 million in funds that went to people who were not eligible, that fanned the flames that were already there, where people feel like the system can hold people more accountable,” O’Connor Ives said. “People want those funds to be there for those who need it.”

According to the report, there were 141,232 recipients of welfare payments as of June 2012.

O’Connor Ives said Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, plans to make welfare reform a priority in this legislative session.

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