Massachusetts Lawmakers Continue to Debate EBT Reforms

May 17, 2012

In December, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation amending a commission that would look at EBT fraud in Massachusetts. The commission was created after it was found that the state public assistance cards were being used to pay for tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, and other things not intended in the program. After a report was filed on April first by the Commission, the House of Representatives began working on their own EBT reform plan, which was included in their FY 2013 budget proposal.

The provision which was led by Republican Representative Shauna O’Connell would impose restrictions on where EBT cards can be used, outlawing sales on alcohol, entertainment, cosmetics, weapons, travel, and other areas. O’Connell says that because most EBT cards are used to obtain cash from ATM’s, it’s almost impossible to determine where the public funds go after withdrawn.

The Senate also included some EBT card reforms in their budget proposal released this week. The Senate’s plan is not as restrictive as the House’s policy. Representative O’Connell criticized the Senate’s version of the reforms.

In addition to calling for more penalties, the House version of the bill also contained language that would restrict some businesses, such as tattoo parlors or movie theaters, from allowing EBT withdrawls in ATMs on their location.

Democratic Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield voted against the House’s plan. While she does agree that fraud should be put under control, and supports the penalties included for trafficking EBT cards, she said that the House version did not do enough to control where the cash obtained from withdrawls can go, and that she would rather go with the State Commission’s recommendations. She also mentioned that she had issues with the way the bill was presented in the House.

The Senate will continue to discuss EBT reform. The state-led EBT Commission found that 85% of funds obtained from EBT cards were spent as cash.