Friday, June 14, 2013

Senate Republican Caucus Press Release on Welfare Reform

Today the Senate Republican Caucus distributed the following press release regarding legislation aimed to reform the state’s welfare system:

  Senate GOP Caucus renews call for welfare reforms

BOSTON – With the promise of yet another bill on Beacon Hill aimed at improving a welfare system in desperate need of real reform, the Senate Republican Caucus is vowing to take action on whatever legislative vehicle comes before the Senate to ensure that meaningful reforms are incorporated within a system wrought with fraudulence and a lack of integrity.

Last year, the Legislature made substantial reforms to the welfare system in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, many of which were championed by the Senate Republican Caucus, including charging recipients for replacement EBT cards; prohibiting the purchase of certain goods and services with EBT cards, such as alcohol, tobacco, tattoos and jewelry; and imposing penalties on recipients and store owners who violate these provisions.  Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), Assistant Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Minority Whip Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) and Ranking Senate Ways and Means Committee member Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) believe that it is now time for the Legislature to build on those reforms to ensure the integrity of the state’s public assistance programs.

“How many audits is it going to take before we stop talking about reforms and start taking action?” said Senator Tarr.  “We shouldn’t be contemplating spending billions of dollars in the state budget and adding millions of dollars in new taxes when we are allowing welfare dollars to be spent in the name of the deceased.  It is intolerable that public assistance dollars continue to be wasted on those who fraudulently abuse them while others deservedly need them.”

The Senate Republican Caucus believes that any welfare reform measure – regardless of whether it originates in the House or the Senate – should not move forward without these components:

•             Ending the shell game of issuing a temporary placeholder number in lieu of an accurate Social Security number;

•             Ensuring that people who are in the country illegally cannot displace people who are here legally on the waiting list for state subsidized housing, similar to the policy used for federally subsidized housing;

•             Implementing the most vigorous system possible for verification of eligibility and identity by requiring the cross checking of all available state, federal, and commercial databases;

•             Promoting a clear path of information sharing for law enforcement, the Bureau of Special Investigations and DTA by designating a law enforcement liaison to ensure proper coordination and communication in the investigation of fraud and abuse;

•             Providing the Inspector General with the authority and the resources to operate an independent division of program oversight and integrity to ensure continued and sustained oversight of the state’s welfare system;

•             Including the DTA website and fraud hotline on all EBT cards; and

•             Ensuring EBT cardholders and those individuals who are authorized users are in fact the ones using them by verifying their identity through such tools as photos, fingerprints or other means of identification.

“We are going to insist that these common sense reforms are included in whatever bill moves forward,” said Senator Tarr.

“Given the extent and growing evidence of abuse and waste in our welfare system, reform must be meaningful, effective and have lasting results,” said Senator Hedlund.  “The reforms we continue to push for will help ensure that the millions of dollars in abuse and waste instead go to helping our veterans, elderly and families in need.  Passing these reforms is essential to restoring the integrity of a very important function of state and local government.”

Recent reports by the Inspector General’s office and the State Auditor’s office have shed light on a number of ongoing problems at DTA, including multiple EBT recipients associated with the same Social Security number, multiple Social Security numbers being used by one individual, and some recipients having no Social Security number.

“While Interim Commissioner Stacey Monahan has been responsive at addressing these deficiencies within the welfare system, the magnitude of the problem clearly demands corresponding legislative action,” said Senator Tarr.

“The Legislature has been made acutely aware of the frustrations and concerns that are felt by our constituents as they witness the many issues plaguing the Commonwealth’s public assistance programs,” Senator Knapik said.  “Reports from the Auditor and the Inspector General have confirmed major deficiencies exist within these programs. As stewards of the public purse, we have an obligation to respond and address any fraudulent or negligent use of public funds. I am pleased to join my colleagues in supporting these common sense reforms to ensure the long-term viability of these safeguards.”

“It has become evident that our public assistance programs are plagued with abuses and inefficiencies. By implementing these reforms, we will provide proper safeguards against potential fraud in the broken system and ensure that these funds are reserved for those individuals and families who are truly in need,” said Senator Ross.

“Now is the time for decisive legislative action that gets to the heart of real reform.  We can’t afford to have important measures lost in a flurry of bills and a tangled legislative process,” said Senator Tarr.