Friday, June 29, 2012

Senate GOP Caucus hails EBT, immigration reforms

The Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus today welcomed a series of reform measures targeting abuses in the state’s public benefits programs, cracking down on unlicensed drivers, and expanding the use of immigrant status verification systems for MassHealth applicants, which they have fought to include in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The reforms were included in the Conference Committee report on the $32.5 billion Fiscal Year 2013 state budget, which was approved today by the Legislature. These reforms reflect many of the Caucus’ priorities initiated during the Senate budget debate in May.

The reforms included in the budget target two of the biggest problems we as a Caucus have been trying to address: the misuse of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and the public safety issues raised by unlicensed drivers, including those who are in this country illegally. For too long, individuals who do not qualify for public assistance have been receiving taxpayer-funded benefits, sometimes at the expense of those who truly need help. At the same time, unlicensed drivers continue to pose a serious public safety threat to all law-abiding citizens. The changes approved by the House and Senate today will help protect those residents who choose to play by the rules while punishing those individuals who would rather manipulate the system for their own advantage.

Some of the Caucus reforms incorporated in the final budget include:

• expanded restrictions on the types of products and services that can be purchased with EBT cards, including a ban on tattoos, gambling and jewelry;

• increased penalties for unlawful purchases made with EBT cards, up to and including the potential loss of direct cash assistance;

• fines for individuals and organizations that traffick in food stamps;

• the establishment of a direct vendor payment program at the Department of Transitional Assistance for recipients who fail to pay rent and/or utilities on time;

• the creation of an independent commission to study and report on the development of a cashless payment system for EBT cards by December 31, 2012;

• a requirement that the Inspector General conduct a data match survey involving the case records for households receiving cash assistance benefits to identify inconsistent or contradictory information that might indicate fraud or abuse;

• a requirement that applicants provide a license, Social Security number, or other proof of legal residence when registering a motor vehicle;

• increased penalties for knowingly employing an unlicensed individual as a motor vehicle operator, or an individual whose license has been suspended or revoked

• expanded penalties for stealing, forging or counterfeiting a learner’s permit, license or ID card; and

• a requirement that MassHealth begin utilizing the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system by July 31, 2013 to verify the immigration status of all applicants who apply for benefits with an alien admission number or alien file number

The budget now heads to Governor Deval Patrick, who will have 10 days to review the spending proposal and to issue any vetoes.