Wednesday, April 29, 2015

House Republicans Secure Biometrics Study to Prevent Fraud in Public Assistance Programs

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) and members of the House Republican Caucus have secured language in the Fiscal Year 2016 House budget aimed at detecting and reducing fraud in the state’s public assistance programs through the use of a biometric authentication system.

The language, approved unanimously as part of an omnibus budget amendment on April 28, requires the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to report back to the Legislature on existing fraud detection measures used within these state agencies and to undertake a study of the feasibility of implementing a biometric authentication system to enhance these efforts.

This study is needed to evaluate if we can feasibly create a reliable system of identification to eliminate fraud within the Commonwealth’s public assistance programs,” said Representative Jones.  “Based on similar efforts implemented in other parts of the country, it seems reasonable to believe that this could save the state millions of dollars by preventing individuals from fraudulently claiming public benefits they don’t actually qualify for or deserve.”

The amendment was co-sponsored by the House Republican leadership team, including Representatives Brad Hill of Ipswich, Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough, Susan Gifford of Wareham, Paul Frost of Auburn and Todd Smola of Warren.  Additional co-sponsors included Representatives Nicholas Boldyga (R-Southwick), Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), Sheila Harrington (R-Groton), Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden), Leah Cole (R-Peabody) and Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk).

A biometric authentication system can prevent fraud by using a person’s biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints, to cross-check their enrollment in other public assistance programs to see if there is a match.  New York State has saved an estimated $314 million preventing fraud-related losses since April 1995 and Los Angeles County has saved $55 million.  Texas and New Jersey have contracts for pilot programs, both of which utilize fingerprinting, although New Jersey’s program also incorporates some facial recognition techniques.

A May 2013 state audit found that Massachusetts welfare benefits were being paid to dead people and to people living out of state.  Representative Jones said biometric authentication could help prevent this type of fraudulent activity.

“DTA already has a program integrity unit that is focused on preventing fraud and has also implemented a new data matching program, where information from 22 sources is automatically checked when a person applies for state benefits,” said Representative Jones.  “Putting a biometric authentication system in place could supplement these initiatives and reduce wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars so the state can direct its resources to those who truly need public assistance.”

The state Senate is expected to release and debate its own version of the budget in May.  A six-member conference committee will then work to resolve the differences between the two branches’ spending proposals and produce a final budget that will be sent to Governor Baker for his signature.