BOSTON, MA – The Massachusetts State Senate advanced an amendment authored by Sen. Robert L. Hedlund (R – Weymouth) today that calls on the State to form a commission to research, evaluate, and propose changes to the current use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
The amendment that Senator Hedlund filed on October 6, 2011 as part of a supplemental budget was held up for over two months by Governor Deval Patrick before being passed today as a standalone bill.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Senator Hedlund said. “Right now there is significant and systematic abuse and almost no accountability. There are people legitimately struggling out there that rely on these funds to survive. However, as we have seen recently, there are a lot of individuals out there scamming the system and that needs to end.”
The latest abuse of EBT cards was revealed last week when four Lynn convenience stores allegedly allowed customers to withdraw hundreds of dollars from their EBT accounts, which was then used to buy crack cocaine. The stores kept half the withdrawn cash as a fee, authorities allege.
The EBT Commission will be responsible for researching and evaluating the use of EBT cards for purchases such as firearms, tobacco, lottery tickets and alcohol. The commission will also determine the proportion of EBT cash assistance that is being withdrawn from ATM machines, the cost associated to place a photograph of the cardholder on every EBT card, and many other problems associated with EBT card use.
“If a serious effort is undertaken the EBT commission will show us just how drastic this abuse and misuse is. The state must be accountable for this money. It’s outright shameful that state assistance is being spent on keno and booze.”
The bipartisan EBT commission will be made up of eight individuals including the inspector general, commission of Transitional Assistance, two low-income advocates appointed by the Governor, and four members of the legislature.
“I don’t need a Commission’s findings to tell me what is wrong with our welfare systems EBT card program and what’s needed to fix it but some of my colleagues need the crutch of a Commission’s findings to advance much needed reforms so in that sense this is a step in the right direction,” Hedlund said.
A final report with recommendations and findings is set to be released April 1, 2012.