EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 12, 2013

State, police team up to curb EBT abuse

By Andy Metzger
State House News Service

---- — BOSTON — A House budget proposal to require photo identification on welfare cards was dismissed yesterday as unnecessary and costly by police and state officials, who announced a new enforcement partnership to guard against benefits trafficking.

“There is a fairly significant cost for us to put that system in place, and I think this has been asked and answered before underneath the Romney administration in 2004 when they made the determination that it wasn’t cost effective for the state to do so,” said Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz. He said he was stopping short of opposing the proposal.

“Some credit cards have photos; most don’t. So I really don’t see the need with that point,” said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, who said he didn’t have much of an opinion on it.

A provision in the House Ways and Means budget released Wednesday would require photo identification on electronic benefit transfer cards for each adult member of the family.

“We continue to hear that the trafficking of EBT cards is a continued problem here in the Commonwealth,” House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill said Wednesday. “We believe that by placing photos on EBT cards, that can act and will act as a deterrent to deal with some of the issues of trafficking.”

After a series of oversight lapses were discovered, former DTA Commissioner Daniel Hurley resigned, and lawmakers this year continue to give attention to ways to safeguard benefits from abuse while also calling for reforms aimed at ensuring that welfare recipients transition off the rolls and into jobs.

The House Republican caucus has proposed a raft of reforms for the system, and House Minority Leader Brad Jones said the reform proposals do not go far enough.

“Unfortunately, the proposals by Beacon Hill Democrats only scratch the surface - lacking teeth and duplicating responsibilities by further increasing state bureaucracy,” Jones said in a statement.

Police chiefs from Everett and Chelsea gathered on the front steps of the State House yesterday morning to announce a collaboration between local police and the Department of Transitional Assistance in curbing trafficking of EBT cards and the purchase of prohibited items with EBT cards.

“This new partnership is important to helping DTA protect our programs that so many families use as a bridge to stability during difficult times,” said DTA Interim Commissioner Stacey Monahan. She said, “We need to make sure we can strengthen our safety net.”

The partnership will allow data-sharing between DTA, which is not an enforcement agency, and local police to battle fraud and misuse of the program, such as the use of public benefits to purchase alcohol.

The DTA has launched a biweekly monitoring of ATM withdrawals and purchases to identify sales at prohibited establishments, with a goal of blocking ATM and cash assistance at prohibited establishments in place by October. DTA staff are also monitoring where transactions are located and visiting establishments that sell prohibited items, with the goal of sharing information with law enforcement.

Polanowicz said clients who misuse their EBT cards are suspended at the first instance, suspended for two months on the second instance, and on the third instance prohibited from using the EBT benefits. Monahan said there are fines of up to $2,500 for retailers.