An Act to Foster Economic Independence (SB 1805)

Summary: Bill introduces a broad range of changes to the cash assistance and other support programs administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA).

Lead Sponsor: Senate President, Therese Murray

Background: Over the past two years, welfare, which includes both cash assistance and food stamps (SNAP), has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism. Recent reports from the State Auditor and the Inspector General have heightened awareness of both real deficiencies and imagined/exaggerated offenses.  Progressive Massachusetts has editorialized about this several times (here) and (here) and believes that real change, including funding for caseworkers and infrastructure is needed.  We decry attempts to vilify the poor, place undue burden on those who are eligible to receive benefits and in other ways use serious public policy for crass political purposes – or to sell newspapers.

The bill sponsored by the Senate President has many provisions that amends provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) systems.  It requires:

  • all EBT cards to be photo IDs;
  • applicants to cash assistance programs to sign self-declarations under the penalties of perjury;
  • all adult TAFDC applicants who are not exempt from the work requirement to conduct an initial job search prior to receiving cash assistance and to re-affirm their job search status every week

It directs DTA to:

  • work in collaboration with the Commonwealth Corporation, to develop a job diversion program;
  • ensure that when recipients of cash assistance call the Department during normal business hours they are able to speak with a caseworker;
  • develop a fraud detection program, and to refer any cases of suspected fraud to the Program Integrity Division of DTA or to the State
  • create specialist positions to focus on providing targeted employment and training assistance;
  • develop economic independence goals for all recipients of cash assistance, and to create a savings program (“economic independence accounts”) that allows recipients to accumulate assets outside of the asset limits;
  • seek federal waivers on any provision that is inconsistent with federal law; and
  • hire not fewer than 6 investigators in the fraud investigations and data matching units, and 50 additional caseworkers.

It also:

  • creates a rebuttable presumption that MA residency has been abandoned when a beneficiary is absent from the Commonwealth in excess of 30 calendar days;
  • increases the work age requirement from 60 to 66;
  • changes the disability exemption standard to that used by federal SSI;
  • reduces the work exemption for pregnant women from the last four months to the last one month;
  • limits the discretionary extensions to 3 months; and
  • increases from age 14 to 16 the requirements of school attendance for beneficiaries’ family members.

We believe most of these provisions are onerous for the poor and should be struck down. In particular, requiring photo IDs on EBT cards makes no policy sense and is costly. Instead, new reforms which emphasize job training, counseling, employment assistance and asset development should be contemplated.

(NOTE:  In a separate Supplemental Budget, passed in June 2013 - Massachusetts became the first and only state in the nation to require photo ID for EBT cards.)

Status: Passed in the Senate (6/21/2013);  Currently being considered by House Ways and Means.  Large coalition of organizations are opposing this legislation, including Progressive Mass.  You can rad more about our efforts here.

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