The program has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of a report earlier this month from the Massachusetts inspector general detailing $25 million in potential waste in welfare programs due to eligibility errors and lax verification requirements. News reports have also highlighted problems with missing addresses and fraudulent purchases.
New Health and Humans Services Secretary John Polanowicz has taken positive steps to right the ship by replacing top staff at the Department of Transitional Assistance, but more work must be done on the legislative side to restore faith in the system and prevent any further abuse of taxpayer funds.
To that end legislation I co-sponsored this session would help reform the EBT system by:
• Mandating asset and identity verification before approval for cash benefits.
• Preventing unauthorized use by mandating a photograph on EBT cards.
• Increasing penalties for merchants who knowingly accept improper EBT purchases.
• Requiring retailers to post number of state fraud hotline to report abuse.
• Reducing fraud of cash payments by phasing in a system of online rent and utility payments over a three-year period.
These common sense reforms may not eliminate every conceivable abuse but they will go a long way to restore public confidence, increase accountability and ensure that only qualified residents are receiving taxpayer benefits.
EBT abuse has become a hot button issue and it’s easy to dispense blame, but we need to put the focus back on solving the actual problem. For that reason I am encouraged to see over 50 legislators from both sides of the aisle join me in support of these measures.
These bills have just been assigned to committees and the public will have a chance to weigh in once a hearing date is set. I am optimistic that we will see action soon. As House Speaker Robert DeLeo stated recently, to have even one cent of public funds misdirected is unacceptable, and we will do everything we can to prevent it.
Josh Cutler is state representative for Pembroke, Duxbury and Hanson.