EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


February 10, 2013

Column: Welfare fraud and abuse calls for new round of reform

It’s been just over nine months since I learned that the welfare reform of the 1990s isn’t working anymore.

Reform began with Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in Michigan, and was picked up here by Gov. Bill Weld. Both Republican and Democratic legislators got on board in 1994 after a local welfare mother became the poster woman for welfare abuse.

Clarabelle Ventura was said to have abused her 4-year-old son by plunging his hands into boiling water, then locking him in his room for weeks without treatment. She had five other children and was pregnant again when she was arrested; it was learned that she’d sold her food stamps, and a washing machine supposedly bought with lottery winnings, to buy drugs. Her family lived in a rent-subsidized apartment, a menu of welfare benefits; she sent her children out into the projects to beg for food, cigarettes and money. I don’t recall any mention of a known father for any of the children.

Soon after this expose, Massachusetts passed legislation calling for time-limited welfare assistance and tough work requirements. The next year the federal welfare system was reconstructed, with state governments given more autonomy over welfare delivery, while also reducing the federal government’s responsibilities. There were time limits and stricter conditions for food stamp eligibility, as well as reductions in immigrant welfare assistance.

And that was the last I heard about the subject, until I got the following email from someone last April:

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is an electronic system in the United States that allows state governments to provide taxpayer-funded welfare benefits by issuing a plastic debit card to use for food, certain services or cash. In Massachusetts, EBT cards are used to gamble, join health clubs, travel out of state, and get tattoos; to buy jewelry, guns, pornography, makeup, and tickets to movies and sporting events.

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