Thursday, June 20, 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 Successful in Amending Senate Welfare Reform Bill

Republicans Continue to Fight Against Waste, Fraud and Abuse


            BOSTON – Today the Massachusetts State Senate debated a major welfare reform bill aimed to prevent significant fraud and abuse within the Massachusetts public assistance system recently identified in reports made by the state’s Inspector General and State Auditor.  Seizing the opportunity to enhance Senate bill 1805, “An Act encouraging low-income savings and economic opportunity,” with substantive reforms, the Senate Republican Caucus succeeded in strengthening the welfare reform measure by providing new tools to combat fraudulent accounts, abuse of the system, and preventing unacceptable waste.


            “Today the Senate has taken decisive steps to reform our state’s welfare system and begin to rebuild the precious public trust and program integrity that have been seriously damaged by a system with too much tolerance for waste, fraud, and abuse,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).  “Our caucus has been unrelenting in the pursuit of necessary reform measures, and we are pleased that many of them have been incorporated into the bill that now leaves the Senate chamber.”


“Our steadfast efforts to reform our broken and wasteful welfare system finally paid off today.  While not a perfect bill, today our Caucus was successful in making the reforms stronger and penalties tougher.  While this is a significant step in protecting taxpayer dollars against waste and abuse, we must remain vigilant in making sure this Welfare Reform Bill is not weakened on its way to becoming law,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth).


The bill released to the floor for debate already included several important provisions championed by the caucus, including:


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


·         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;


·         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.


During today’s debate Republican efforts continued to strengthen the bill through several key amendments. Many of the amendments that Senator Tarr, Senator Hedlund, Minority Whip Richard Ross (R-Wrentham) and Ranking Senate Ways and Means Committee member Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) succeeded in securing include:


·         Requiring the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to implement an electronic system to reduce inefficiencies and inaccuracies caused by an abundance of paperwork;


·         Requiring the fraud detection program in DTA to refer any cases of suspected fraud to the Program Integrity Division within DTA and the Bureau of Special Investigations in the State Auditor’s office;


·         Ensuring the DTA maintains proper control and custody of blank EBT cards, addressing the concern highlighted in a State Auditor’s report identifying over 30,000 missing blank EBT cards;


·         Suspending the liquor and Lottery licenses of those businesses that repeatedly allow prohibited items to be purchased with EBT funds for 30 days;


·         Requiring the DTA to post all reports online that are mandated by the bill;


·         Requiring the DTA to conduct an enhanced review of recipients that use cash assistance in states outside of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Vermont;


·         Enhancing the penalties of the crime of EBT trafficking on a third offense from 5 to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000, an increase of the current $5,000 penalty;


·         Denying the possibility of welfare benefits for those ordered to register as a sex offender but who fail to do so following the hearing of an appeal;


·         Requiring welfare recipients who participate in training or education programs to prove their attendance and participation in them; and


·         Preventing illegal immigrant families from displacing legal residents within public housing.


“Our constituents have called for legislative action to ensure those who are charged with spending taxpayer dollars are held to the highest standard,” Senator Knapik said. “Although several efforts offered by the Republican Caucus to increase accountability were defeated, I am pleased with the legislature’s efforts to restore integrity to the commonwealth’s public assistance programs and foster a more accessible pathway to self-sufficiency for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”


“This legislation is a significant step forward in tackling the waste and fraud that has distressed the Commonwealth’s welfare system. Not only will these reforms strengthen and enhance the integrity of the system, but they will provide helpful resources for recipients to access employment opportunities and increase their financial independence,” said Senator Ross.


“Following the passage of this bill we will remain committed to capturing every opportunity for reform, including securing its passage into law,” said Senator Tarr.