House Passes An Act to Foster Economic Independence
Promotes financial independence and strengthens anti-fraud measures
State Representative Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances the efficacy of the state’s welfare system through new initiatives and reforms.
The $20 million bill dedicates $11 million to create the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program which provides numerous resources including job training, education and employment-matching programs to help welfare recipients achieve financial independence. The program requires applicants to search for employment before they receive cash assistance, replacing current regulations in which recipients have 60 days to find a job, but allows for temporary benefits while awaiting placement.
“In this bill we provide a comprehensive set of tools that will help individuals who need it the most while simultaneously taking steps to improve the economic wellbeing of Massachusetts,” Speaker DeLeo said. “I believe that this bill, particularly the strong reform measures, sets our public assistance programs on a path for sustainable success that will serve the Commonwealth for years to come.”
“Over the past two years, the House has made targeted reforms to the Commonwealth’s welfare program,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill), Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “With this bill, we continue that push, mindful of our continued emphasis on balancing reforms, investments, and new initiatives. Our ultimate goal, as always, is to help our residents get back to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
"This bill demonstrates the House’s commitment to addressing poverty throughout the Commonwealth and investing in programs aimed at transitioning our most vulnerable residents onto a path towards self-sufficiency," said Representative Tom Conroy (D-Wayland), Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
The bill appropriates increased funds for the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), including $3 million to hire additional caseworkers, the Department of Early Education & Care, and the Department of Career Services. In addition to educational programs included in the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program, the legislation provides an additional $1 million for the High Demand Scholarship program and requires the DTA to create a financial literacy program regarding the use of benefit cards, bank accounts and savings for higher education.
The legislation aids parents and families in numerous ways including:
- Allocates $5 million for childcare subsidies for low-income families;
- Makes individuals participating in the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program eligible for childcare vouchers;
- Strengthens assistance for pregnant teens.
To help welfare recipients maintain economic stability while working towards independence, the bill includes an asset development program that allows individuals to save up to $5,000 for housing and education. These funds would not be counted against the existing $2,500 asset limit.
An Act to Foster Economic Independence builds on the House’s ongoing commitment to preventing welfare fraud and closing loopholes that incentivize individuals to remain on welfare through numerous provisions:
- Expands the scope of prohibited EBT transactions to include foreign transmittal agencies to prevent the use of EBT cards for international wire transfers;
- Requires the DTA to notify recipients who have not used benefits or have high balances, and subsequently requires the DTA to expunge or recoup funds;
- Codifies regulations mandating that SNAP benefits are for household use only as a means to prevent overseas food shipments;
- Requires the DTA to create a fraud detection program to analyze risk and refer cases to the Bureau of Program Integrity for investigation;
- Requires self-declarations to be signed under the penalties of perjury and prohibits self-declarations from being used as the only verification of eligibility;
- Allows state agencies to disclose tax forms for eligibility determination;
- Reduces the time period that results in a presumption of abandonment of Massachusetts residency.
The bill passed the House unanimously
BOSTON—State Rep. Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the House today to pass legislation that will increase the oversight of compounding pharmacies, improve quality and safety standards in the Commonwealth, and establish rigorous transparency and accountability practices for compounding pharmacies across the state.
The unanimous vote distinguishes Massachusetts as the first state to pass comprehensive legislation relative to compounding pharmacies. The bill addresses a previous lack of consistent standards, at both a state and federal level, governing the operations of specialty pharmacies engaged in sterile compounding. This legislation was carefully crafted following the 2012 meningitis outbreak linked to contaminated drugs produced at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Massachusetts.
“This legislation ensures that we are doing all we can to guarantee the highest standards of safety, oversight and transparency for compounding pharmacies,” said Speaker DeLeo. “The distribution of contaminated drugs that occurred last year was a tragedy, but I’m proud of the comprehensive response by the House and Chairman Sánchez. Massachusetts prides itself on being a hub of health care and medical excellence. It is my hope that these reforms will set a national standard so that no individual is again affected by this kind of negligence.”
“This legislation will hold pharmacies to high standards in quality control and sterility,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health (D-Jamaica Plain). “These are achievable standards, and standards pharmacies must meet in order to prevent another tragedy like the one we witnessed with the New England Compounding Center and Ameridose. That being said, this bill recognizes the unique and necessary place specialty compounding holds in the delivery of modern health care as it strives to fill in the “grey area” surrounding current state and federal oversight of compounding pharmacies.”
This compounding pharmacy bill modernizes pharmacy oversight while enhancing patient access to critical medications. The legislation addresses the unique needs of this industry through the following provisions:
- Establishes a specialty license for all in-state and out-of-state sterile compounding pharmacies;
- Requires the Department of Public Health to track all sterilely compounded drugs made by state-licensed pharmacies;
- Requires the Department of Public Health to collect and analyze data on adverse events tied to pharmaceuticals;
- Creates an online database listing pharmacies that have prepared drugs resulting in adverse effects;
- Mandates unannounced, detailed inspections of all sterile compounding pharmacies;
- Requires state pharmacy inspectors to be specially trained and to take continuing education classes;
- Requires that compounded medications are clearly labeled;
- Mandates pharmacies to report the type and volume of compound drug production;
- Reforms the composition of the State Board of Pharmacy;
- Requires increased communications between prescribers, pharmacies, government officials and patients, including a support hotline for patients;
- Ensures that state and national agencies communicate on oversight and potential problems.
The House voted 155-0 to pass the bill, which now moves to the Senate.
After some spirited debate the House voted last week nearly unanimously (156-1) to repeal a recently enacted “Tech Tax” which would have applied to certain computer and software services. The legislation had caused a great deal of confusion and concern in the tech community and I’m glad there was bipartisan support to eliminate it. I was pleased to be the first House member, Democrat or Republican, to sign on as a co-sponsor of the repeal legislation. The bill makes the repeal retroactive so any monies already paid since July can be recouped. The Department of Revenue is responsible for overseeing this transition, but as always if you need assistance please don’t hesitate to contact our office.
Wrong number on cell phone sales tax
By Rep. Josh Cutler and Rep. Jay Barrows
Next time you buy that shiny new smart phone check your sales receipt; the $99 you might pay for an iPhone, Galaxy or Blackberry with calling plan could run you $50 or more in sales tax.
Under our state’s 6.25 percent sales tax, a purchase of $99 should cost an additional $6.19, yet most consumers are paying four and five times that amount at the register. So what’s the disconnect?
Thanks, or no thanks, to a directive from the state Department of Revenue consumers are charged sales tax not on the actual sales price of the phone they buy, but on the usually much higher manufacturer’s list price. In other words, if you paid $99 at the cash register for an iPhone but your phone is actually valued at $799 by Apple, you’d be forced to pay sales tax on $799. For an older model or a used cell phone you might actually pay more in sales tax than you would for the actual price of the phone.
This absurdity arises because of the way mobile phones are treated when they are bundled with service contracts. The Department of Revenue views the taxable sales amount of a mobile phone as either the consumer’s retail price or the manufacturer’s wholesale price, whichever is higher.
While it may be true that mobile phones are heavily discounted in order to package service contracts, the sales price remains the sales price. No other consumer product is taxed in such an illogical fashion. When a flat screen television originally priced at $899 is discounted on sale for $499, we don’t ask the consumer to pay sales tax on $899.
Massachusetts is one of just two states to single out mobile phones for such disparate treatment. It is a practice that is unfair to consumers and also a headache for retailers, often putting franchise owned stores at a competitive disadvantage over stores owned by mobile phone service carriers.
The original mobile phone sales tax policy dates back to 1993, but new regulations were issued in 2011 to reflect the changing business models for selling cell phones and the fact that numerous retailers were unaware of this unique sales tax policy and ended up owing thousands in back tax. Retailers still have to charge the same sales tax but now they can choose to absorb this extra cost instead of passing it on to consumers. That’s an improvement, but it doesn’t change the underlying confusion, and in some cases creates even more.
For instance dueling mobile phone retailers in the same shopping mall could have distinct sales tax policies whereby a customer in one store would pay $99 plus $6.19 tax and in the other store in the same mall pay $99 plus $49.94 in tax for the exact same phone and service contract.
It’s time to treat mobile phones like any other consumer product and tax them on the actual purchase price. A pair of bills we have sponsored under consideration before the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue would do exactly that.
Our legislation would level the playing field and treat a mobile phone purchase the same whether it was bundled with a calling plan or not. The price you pay at the register is the price you are taxed on.
This pro-consumer legislation is a logical and equitable solution that will end all the confusion. So get those overtaxed cell phones out and call your state legislators to spread the message: it’s time to fix this taxing problem.
State Rep. Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, represents the 6th Plymouth district and State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, represents the 1st Bristol district. This commentary was originally published in the Boston Herald.
Here is news release on the FY 14 state budget passed on Monday.
(BOSTON) – The Mass. House of Representatives enacted a $34.06 billion state budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14). The spending plan makes important investments to rebuild the Commonwealth’s essential services and programs, including local aid, education, housing, public safety, and health and human services, and supports the ongoing recovery of the local economy.
The budget reflects the priorities of the Commonwealth and the needs of cities, towns and residents, while also maintaining the highest level of fiscal responsibility and accountability, leaving the state’s rainy day fund at $1.46 billion.
“As a state with an AA+ bond rating, we were able enact a strong spending plan that makes proactive and responsible investments to help prepare our students for the jobs of the future, such as our STEM Starter Academy and our funding of the University of Massachusetts,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “This budget demonstrates our commitment to education and job creation while protecting those most in need of help.”
“This budget makes important and thoughtful investments in many of our core services and programs in the Commonwealth, including education, care for the elderly, housing, distressed hospitals and mental health,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “I want to thank the conference committee for their commitment to producing a final budget that maintains our fiscal health and continues our economic growth. Our recovery continues to move forward but it is critical that we still remain cautious in our spending and focus on the priorities that will keep the Commonwealth moving forward.”
“Through this budget, the Legislature recognizes the economic challenges facing the Commonwealth and its residents,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill). “Our goal is a renewed focus on governmental oversight and accountability to eliminate fraud and delays and to ensure that those who need the Commonwealth’s assistance receive it. We pair this focus with an emphasis on higher education as a means to provide our residents with a competitive edge that will continue to support the state’s economic recovery.”
“This budget makes a number of responsible and sustainable investments in human services programs, local aid, and education,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Stephen M. Brewer (D-Barre). “The joint spending plan approved today moves away from some of the painful cuts of the past and funds a number of thoughtful and significant priorities. We should be very proud of the important investments we have made here; they will impact some of the Commonwealth’s neediest residents, including eliminating wait lists for the elderly and prioritizing early education, while ensuring that we continue to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government programs.”
The budget represents the Legislature’s continuing commitment to cities and towns, boosting investments in Unrestricted General Government Aid (UGGA), Chapter 70, and the Special Education Circuit Breaker. For the first time since FY10 UGGA funding will increase to $920 million, an increase of more than $21 million, due largely in part to gaming licensing revenues.
This year’s spending bill underscores Massachusetts’ ongoing commitment to strengthening its educational systems through both new and updated provisions. The budget increases key areas of local education funding including $4.31 billion for Chapter 70, full funding for educating high-needs special education students and $51.5 million for Regional School Transportation. The budget also allocates a $15 million investment in early education that will take approximately 2,000 children off the waitlist for income-eligible child care.
The budget also takes decisive action to increase funding for the University of Massachusetts, state universities and community colleges, including $478.9 million for UMass to prevent tuition and fee increases in the upcoming school year. It creates a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Starter Academy program to be implemented through the Department of Higher Education. This program will benefit a targeted population of students at one or more of the Commonwealth’s Community Colleges who have expressed a high level of interest in STEM majors and careers.
The budget provides numerous health and human services provisions including $38.3 million to increase rates paid to Disproportionate Share Hospitals to assist struggling hospitals with modernization assistance and funding payment reform. It also provides crucial funding for mental health services through an increase of $8.4 million and increasing substance abuse services by $6.7 million. This funding will maintain at least 626 inpatient mental health beds, including 45 beds at Taunton State Hospital and for child, adolescent and emergency mental health services.
Additionally, the spending bill allocates $187.2 million to elder home care services, an increase of $6.2 million that will eliminate the 1,500 person waitlist for elder home care services, and increases funding for housing programs by $18.2 million to ensure safe and sustainable housing options. The majority of this increase will allow for more than 1,000 new housing vouchers.
The budget maintains the Legislature’s commitment to government efficiency and transparency by implementing key reforms to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and including funding to examine the state’s early education, public health and criminal justice programs to determine how efficiency can be improved within these programs.
In additional reforms, the legislation implements new oversight within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which administers the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program, to bolster the waste and abuse prevention reforms enacted in the FY ’13 budget. The budget also creates The Bureau of Program Integrity to provide continuous oversight of public assistance programs while maintaining eligibility verification and ensuring we focus our state resources on those residents who are most in need of state assistance. This provision will be implemented alongside reforms included in the FY ’13 June Supplemental Budget, requiring EBT cards to include photo IDs and creating a state verification and eligibility Task Force to investigate and prevent fraud and the abuse of public benefits.
Lastly, the budget expands and funds numerous economic development initiatives, including more than $20 million in anticipated gaming revenue to a variety of manufacturing-related programs.
The budget now goes to the Governor for his approval.
Here is news release on the FY 13 Supplemental budget passed on Monday.
(BOSTON) – The Mass. House of Representative enacted a $133.4 million supplemental state budget, providing funding for vital state programs and implementing reforms to the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA).
“I congratulate the conferees for their work on this important bill which allows us to continue critical state initiatives like the Summer Jobs program and provide funds for snow and ice removal,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “I’m also very pleased that we were able to take immediate action to combat welfare fraud with measures like adding photos to EBT cards and creating the Bureau of Program Integrity. These actions affirm our commitment to stopping fraud while supporting citizens who are most in need. Lastly, I am especially proud of the inclusion of home modification funds for victims of the Boston Marathon and thank those who advocated for this provision.”
“The supplemental budget provides much-needed funds to critical services and programs across the Commonwealth,” said Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth). “Our towns and cities will feel the positive effects of these funds at the local level, such as through the distribution of Community Health Center grants and charter school reimbursements. This budget also authorizes funding for operations costs for local sheriffs as well as provides Welcome Home bonuses for our veterans returning from their service abroad. These are important programs and services that contribute to the economic health of our communities as well as the personal well-being of our residents.”
“This supplemental budget ensures funding for programs in Fiscal Year 2013 that provide integral support to the residents of the Commonwealth. It prioritizes meaningful assistance to victims of the Boston Marathon bombings who have lost limbs by creating a home modification grant program and supports critical services like the Hotel/Motel Emergency Shelter program for homeless families and the Summer Jobs program. It also includes funding to meet our obligations for the Snow and Ice program.” said House Ways and Means Chairman Brian S. Dempsey (D-Haverhill).
The supplemental budget updates EBT oversight measures included in the House’s FY ’14 budget to advance continuous efforts by the House to address and prevent EBT abuse. This legislation contains the following provisions:
- Requires a photo on EBT cards for each eligible household member over the age of 18 to deter fraud. Elderly and disabled residents are exempt from this requirement;
- Establishes a state verification and eligibility Task Force made up of the State Auditor, Attorney General, Inspector General, Treasurer, Secretary of Health and Human Services and Secretary of Administration and Finance to coordinate efforts with the DTA’s Bureau of Program Integrity.
- Authorizes $56 million to fund payments for the Snow and Ice program;
- Provides $10 million to support the Youth Summer Jobs program, providing employment opportunities for the Commonwealth’s at-risk youth;
- Creates a $200,000 fund for victims of the Boston Marathon to help modify their homes or move into more accessible housing;
- Provides $1 million for Community Health Center grants;
- Authorizes funding for operations costs for the Commonwealth’s sheriffs;
- Allocates $8 million in funding for charter school reimbursements;
- Provides $13.5 million to cover state and local special elections costs;
- Authorizes $1.2 million to support the Hotel/Motel program for homeless;
- Provides $50,000 to study the feasibility of a regional lock-up facility in Worcester County.
Further, the FY ’14 budget makes additional reforms including implementing new oversight within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which administers the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) program, to bolster the waste and abuse prevention reforms enacted in the FY ’13 budget. It also creates the Bureau of Program Integrity to provide continuous oversight of public assistance programs while maintaining eligibility verification and ensuring we focus our state resources on those residents who are most in need of state assistance.
Here is a news release on the EBT legislation we passed in the House this week as part of a supplemental budget:
House of Representatives Votes to Strengthen EBT Enforcement
Legislation Adds $96 million to Fiscal 2013 Spending
BOSTON – State Representatives in the Massachusetts House of Representatives this week passed legislation that provides immediate funds for reforms to the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) system and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA).
The bill updates EBT oversight measures included in the FY ’14 budget and advances continuous efforts by the House to address and prevent EBT abuse. The legislation also allocates supplementary funds for existing appropriations and projects.
“I congratulate Chairman Dempsey and the House Ways and Means Committee for their work on this important bill,” said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). “EBT reform has been a top priority of the House for many years and I’m proud we were able to take immediate action to again further our efforts. Through this bill we are affirming our commitment to stopping fraud while supporting those who need it most.”
“This supplemental budget will ensure funding to safeguard statewide programs that provide integral support to vulnerable segments of the population, like the Hotel/Motel Emergency Shelter program for homeless families, the newly created home modification grant program for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings who have lost limbs, and the Summer Jobs program. Funding is also included to meet our obligations for the Snow and Ice Removal program,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey, (D-Haverhill) Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “Additionally, under the leadership of Speaker DeLeo, the House continues to make strides in addressing the issue of fraud and abuse in the EBT system. We implement strong, targeted policies that establish oversight of the Department of Transitional Assistance and require thorough verification procedures while rooting out anyone abusing public benefits.”
Since 2011 the House has enacted numerous welfare reforms including prohibiting certain purchases using EBT cards and criminalizing the use of an EBT card in any manner not authorized by law. The new legislation includes the following measures:
- Requires a photo ID on EBT cards for each eligible household member over the age of 18 and establishes a timeframe for implementation;
- Establishes a Bureau of Program Integrity within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) to monitor and correct deficiencies in the programs administered by the office;
- Requires the EOHHS to create a computerized integrated eligibility system to monitor eligibility before funds are dispersed;
- Establishes a state verification and eligibility task force made up of the State Auditor, Attorney General, Inspector General, Treasurer, and Secretary of Administration and Finance. The task force will coordinate efforts with the Bureau of Program Integrity;
- Allows for the sharing of tax return information with agencies that provide benefit programs;
- Requires the development of a system in which DTA will work with law enforcement agencies to use fingerprinting comparisons in instances of trafficking and fraud;
- Prohibits out-of-state EBT card use, except in states contiguous to Massachusetts;
- Requires businesses to apply online to accept EBT cards at point of sale;
- Requires the DTA to submit its annual report the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means on or before November 1st of each year.
In addition to the welfare reform measures, the bill authorizes $56 million for road-clearing bills, $10 million for the summer jobs program and $13.5 million to cover the costs of state and municipal elections. This legislation also provides funds for victims of the marathon bombing to help modify their homes or move into more accessible housing.
The bill now moves to the Senate.
Congrats to South Shore Vo-Tech School on its 50th anniversary delivering top notch vocational education to South Shore students. Rep. Nyman and I were pleased to present this resolution on behalf of the entire South Shore delegation to SSVT School Committee chairman John Manning.
Here is video from the Dept. of Transitional Assistance listening tour session in Pembroke with interim Commissioner Stacey Monahan. For convenience sake this video (33 minutes) includes just her responses to audience questions. The full unabridged session (68 minutes) is also posted on my youtube page.
With a bipartisan group of legislators, the House is the leader in fighting EBT abuse.
We banned the use of EBT cards for such uses as tattoo parlors, nail salons, casinos, and strip clubs.
We expanded the scope of prohibited transactions to include the sale of alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco, firearms, professional services, admission to performances, travel services, health clubs, jewelry, rental of goods or property, payment of taxes or bail.
This reform also banned the use of direct cash assistance outside of the Commonwealth except for emergencies. Can you believe someone would use an EBT card to buy a gun or go to a strip club?
We also made it a crime for a person knowingly transferring, acquiring, altering or possessing an electronic benefit transfer card or access device in any manner not authorized by state or federal law. Penalties include fines and jail time based upon the cash value of benefits being trafficked. The state lottery commission and the alcoholic beverages control commission may suspend or revoke the license of any person who is found to have knowingly violated this statute.
2013 - THIS YEAR
Our plan this year goes even further.
We create a system whereby all EBT cards would require a photo ID. Photos on EBT cards would help stem fraud and make sure state funds go to those most in need.
We will also create an Eligibility Verification Task Force to make sure the people who are receiving benefits, across state government, are the truly needy. This institutionalizes a permanent and ongoing involvement of government watchdogs, such as the Auditor, the IG, and the AG.
Lastly, our plan establishes a bureau of program integrity. This new office, to be headed by an appointee of the Inspector General, will help develop and oversee regulations to improve the process of determining who is eligible to receive an EBT card.