EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

August 7, 2013

Editorial: Get serious about curbing benefits fraud

At a political forum Monday in North Andover, four Republican legislators spoke of their frustration in trying to reform the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) system in Massachusetts.

“These programs are out of control,” said state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, who has been a leader in the fight for EBT reform. “People who truly need help are going without.”

That’s what is truly puzzling. People who need and deserve public assistance, as well as the taxpayers who support such programs, are being ripped off by those who have figured out how easy it is to cheat the system.

So why does EBT fraud seem to be a front-burner concern only to the handful of Republicans the state manages to elect? Democrats, who claim to represent the interests of the poor, have made only half-hearted attempts at reform.

The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick doesn’t seem to care at all. Despite reports and audits revealing millions of dollars in losses through EBT fraud, Patrick dismisses individual incidents of theft as “anecdotes” and the overall losses in the program as “tolerable leakage.”

O’Connell told the meeting of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party that one-third of the state’s EBT recipients have questionable eligibility. One recipient had a balance of $12,000 on an EBT card, she said.

The Department of Transitional Assistance, which manages the EBT program, often fails to verify Social Security numbers. Citizenship is not verified either, O’Connell said.

Despite the obvious abuses, reform has been a struggle.

Last year, Patrick rejected much of a list of restrictions enacted by the Legislature on where EBT cards could be used. Patrick allowed bans on using the benefit cards for purchases at tattoo parlors and gun shops but vetoed restrictions on the purchases of jewelry or the services of nail shops.

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