Led by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester), a bi-partisan group of House and Senate legislators submitted a letter Monday to the Fiscal Year 2014 Budget Conference Committee, asking them to strike out the five letter word in the House engrossed budget which stands between the Commonwealth and meaningful welfare reforms: STUDY.
The letter to the Conference Committee comes on the heels of an explosive report by State Auditor Suzanne Bump, in which it was revealed that millions of dollars was spent on the distribution of taxpayer funded welfare benefits to deceased recipients and duplicate dependents.
“Members of the Fiscal Year Budget Conference Committee have two options,” said Representative Brad Jones. “They can either choose to remove two unnecessary welfare reform studies from the state budget, thus protecting the Commonwealth’s hardworking taxpayers and ensuring welfare benefits are reserved for the state’s neediest residents, or they can further delay substantive and comprehensive reform to the state’s EBT system by choosing to further study this issue. The ball is in their court.”
Garnering the support of legislators from both Chambers, the letter respectfully requests that “that the Conference Committee cast aside political gamesmanship in exchange for the progress needed to ensure, once and for all, that Massachusetts’ welfare benefits are reserved for those who are truly eligible and in need of our assistance.”
The letter goes on to say that Senate Republicans, as well as several Senate Democrats, argued for the inclusion substantial and reasonable eligibility reforms and public assistance abuse prevention provisions of in their version of the state budget, but were defeated.
“In the face of ever increasing evidence that welfare dollars are consumed through waste and fraud rather than going to people who truly need them, the conferees should waste no time in approving practical measures that will help to rebuild and restore the integrity of a multi-billion dollar welfare system,” said Senator Tarr. “The option to act in defense of taxpayers and legitimate recipients is on the table, and they should take it.”
Some of the other targeted reforms that the legislators would like to see included in the final version of the state budget, which will be sent to Governor Patrick for his approval, include:
(1) the expedited establishment and integration of EOHHS’ Integrated Eligibility System (IES) with the Department of Transitional Assistance;
(2) the requirement that the IES cross-check Social Security Numbers (SSNs), at the point of application, with a minimum of 9 specific state and federal databases and 20 additional optional databases, to the extent that they are available;
(3) the prohibition of the use of numerical identifiers as placeholders for SSNs for periods in excess of 3 months;
(4) the immediate phase-in of photo ID on EBT cards for cardholders over the age of 18, beginning 6 months following the passage of the bill;
(5) the prohibition of out of state EBT card use except in states contiguous to Massachusetts;
(6) the increase of the potential fines on retailers who violate EBT prohibitions, as recommended by the most recent Cashless Commission;
(7) the prohibition of the use of self-declarations as verification of applicant eligibility; and
(8) the phase-in of the implementation of an online payment system for rent and utility payments that would provide recipients with more flexibility to pay bills and an added resource to budget benefits, while providing the Commonwealth with greater oversight over the use of cash assistance.
The Conference Committee will begin their deliberations on the Fiscal Year 2014 state budget later this week.