House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and the House Republican Caucus were joined by the entire House of Representatives in unanimously approving a welfare reform package aimed at increasing oversight of the taxpayer-funded Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) program.
"I am pleased that the House of Representatives has taken yet another step toward achieving a taxpayer-funded EBT program which serves those citizens who are in need of assistance, and who have taken the necessary and lawful steps to secure those benefits,” said Representative Jones. “The reform package approved by the House demonstrates the majority party’s recognition that by including Republican-led amendments aimed at eliminating all levels and degrees of waste, fraud, and abuse within the EBT program, we as a legislature can play a pivotal role in facilitating a path to self-sufficiency for people currently receiving assistance.”
Although House Bill 3737 – An Act Encouraging Low-Income Savings and Economic Opportunity, initially included many provisions for which Republicans had long lobbied – tax return disclosure for income verification, increased penalties for food stamp trafficking, and increased oversight of work requirements – the legislation, as proposed, did not go far enough in addressing the root of the perpetual fraud and mismanagement within the EBT system.
With a core goal of ensuring that benefits are obtained, distributed, and expended in a manner that is both lawful and beneficial to the recipient of the assistance, the Republican Caucus was successful in offering amendments which rectify current problems within the system while safeguarding the long-term integrity of the welfare program. Some of the proposals offered by Republicans, and adopted by the House, which protect taxpayers and benefit recipients alike include:
• Requiring a valid social security number to be provided upon application for benefits, while establishing an exemption for victims of domestic violence and a three-month grace period for expectant mothers and children under four months of age.
• Adding a minority party appointment to the Poverty Reduction Commission to ensure that the Commission is bipartisan and reflects a range of viewpoints.
• Instructing the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to implement a school attendance verification system for the Commonwealth’s students.
• Creating a special commission to study the feasibility of establishing a tax credit for small businesses that hire Massachusetts residents who are recipients of DTA benefits, thereby simultaneously aiding both the business and the recipient.
• Directing the Secretary of Administration & Finance to study the efficacy of the current benefit systems in Massachusetts, to examine whether the system is successfully moving individuals out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency.
Having passed the House of Representatives and the State Senate, the legislation will now be sent to a Conference Committee to resolve the differences between the two bills.