BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) — A bipartisan group of lawmakers filed a bill Thursday morning that bars welfare recipients from making purchases with their electronic benefit transfer cards outside New England or at certain establishments like casinos, cruises, nail salons and bars. It also restricts cash withdrawals in preference of purchases made directly in stores.
“The proposal in the legislation is 70 percent, you can be able to go to a point of sale, and 30 percent you can still get in cash,” said Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston). “What we heard was some folks may still need to get cash to get on the T or call a cab, things of that nature.”
Lawmakers said they were dissatisfied with the weak recommendations made by the EBT Card Commission last week. Their bill goes further, which critics say creates animosity toward the poor.
“Certain stores would not be able to accept EBT cards or cash from people [on welfare], so how is a store owner supposed to know when somebody walks in?” asked Erin O’Leary of Neighbor-to-Neighbor. “Are they going to ask ‘are you on welfare?’ or are they going to, you know, start stereotyping and profiling?”
Governor Deval Patrick said $4 million in fraud has been recovered in the last year. Other than that, abuse in the EBT system has been mostly anecdotal. That’s incentive enough for lawmakers to recommend a study on the cost of photo ID for EBT card users.
“If anything, this is an attack on waste, fraud and abuse to maintain integrity in the system to protect the poor who actually rely on this program,” said Sen. Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth).
State Auditor Suzanne Bump also intends to conduct an audit of the Department of Transitional Assistance’s public assistance programs, including cash assistance, food stamps and EBT cards.
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