EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

August 6, 2013

GOP solons slam EBT abuse

Say $500M tax hike unnecessary

NORTH ANDOVER — The state Legislature, with Gov. Deval Patrick’s approval, recently raised taxes by $500 million.

Four Republican legislators who attended last night’s Merrimack Valley Tea Party meeting said the increase was unnecessary.

State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, whose district includes half of North Andover, said he is still angry about the increase.

State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, talked about the fight to reform EBT (electronic benefits transfers) procedures and the frustrations she and other legislators have faced trying to get information about this program. Her House colleagues, James Lyons, R-Andover, and Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, expressed similar views.

A third of the state’s EBT recipients have questionable eligibility, O’Connell said. One recipient had a balance of $12,000 on an EBT card, she said. She based her assertions on reports from the state auditor and inspector general.

The Department of Transitional Assistance, which manages EBT, often fails to verify Social Security numbers, she said. Citizenship is not verified either, she said.

“These programs are out of control,” said O’Connell. “People who truly need help are going without.”

O’Connell, Lyons, Mirra and Tarr all chastised Patrick and his administration for failing to rid the welfare system of fraud and abuse.

They did claim credit for one recent change: EBT recipients will now be required to provide photo IDs — but O’Connell warned bureaucrats will probably try to find ways to make exceptions for individuals.

Tarr noted he fought hard, but unsuccessfully, against a provision that links increases in the gasoline tax to inflation. Ted Trip, last night’s master of ceremonies, pointed out that when Tarr’s speech against this measure was cheered by spectators in the Senate gallery, Senate President Therese Murray ordered them removed.

The Patrick administration has called the abuse of EBT cards “tolerable leakage” which is no worse than in other states, Tarr said.

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