Commission wants tighter rules for EBT

BOSTON (WWLP) — A state commission wants to make it harder for people who use Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT) cards to use them to purchase non-essential services like manicures and tattoos.

The Electronic Benefit Transfer Card Commission has approved a set of four recommendations to crack down on fraud and inappropriate use of EBT cards.

Their reforms would ban the use of EBT cards at tattoo parlors, nail salons, spas, smoke shops, casinos, strip clubs, and firearms dealers.

State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), a member of the commission, said that misuse of EBT cards isn’t just perceived, it is real.

Not everyone thinks there is a widespread problem, however. Maryann Broxton of Medford, who was at Thursday’s meeting, said that Flanagan’s assertions about EBT card fraud can’t be backed up.  

“Senator Flanagan made the comment that people are taking the money and buying drugs with it, although that was not based on fact, there was no study backing that up.  It's just based on the old myths about people that are poor,” Broxton said.

Flanagan acknowledged that there is no real data on EBT misuse, but added that she wants research on it to be done.

“I said from the beginning, I want the Inspector General to do his report and the data we have right now in not conclusive,” Flanagan said.

The commission wants the Inspector General to come out with a report on eligibility and fraud. They also want to study whether it will be a better idea to go with a completely cashless system, rather than allow EBT recipients to withdraw cash from ATM machines.

State Rep. Shauna O’Connell (R-Taunton) says that cash benefits are where much of the problem comes from.

“You can take that cash benefit and spend it on anything you want.  There's no oversight for that.  So, you know, people that are receiving cash assistance, I have a problem with them being in Florida for two months and spending their benefits there,” O’Connell said.

The commission also plans to create a pilot program to have transitional assistance clients get bank accounts and learn how to budget.

Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Daniel Curley says that this would help “To get people with very low income used to and understanding finances, being able to really predict a future, to be able to put something aside for their future, even if it's $10 or $20.”

The Inspector General will release a report on eligibility fraud by July 1. The Commission will also explore the cost and logistics of putting signs up with 1-800 numbers for people to call if they detect fraud.

The recommendations must be approved by the Legislature.

Copyright 2014 WWLP TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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