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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 21, 2013 Contact: Sean Diamond Phone: (617) 722-1415

MASSACHUSETTS STATE SENATE PASSES WELFARE REFORM BILL Knapik hails passage of comprehensive welfare bill

BOSTON – Senator Michael R. Knapik (R – Westfield) announced today that the Senate passed legislation that provides significant improvements to the state’s welfare system by closing costly loopholes and giving the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) the necessary tools to implement meaningful reform. The passage of the bill represents the Senate’s commitment to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth have access to high-quality programs and services that will empower them to reach economic independence. “This comprehensive bill creates realistic expectations for individuals receiving public benefits to strive for economic self-sufficiency,” Knapik said. “Not only will this bill have a tremendous impact on the lives of the most vulnerable citizens, it’s a step in the right direction to restore the public’s trust in one of the state’s most important agencies, the Department of Transitional Assistance” Knapik said. Senate bill 1805, “An Act enhancing low-income savings and economic opportunity” was engrossed Thursday night after lengthy debates on many amendments offered to improve the proposal. In all, 87 amendments were filed to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means proposal. In response to the rampant fraud and abuse highlighted in recent reports issued by the State

Auditor and Inspector General, the bill contains several GOP-backed initiatives that seek to prevent further abuse and restore integrity to the Commonwealth’s welfare system including provisions requiring photo identification on all EBT cards by August 1, 2014, the DTA website and fraud hotline on all newly issued cards, and an EBT inventory control measure. In addition, several GOP amendments were adopted to ensure compliance with the new standards including suspending the liquor and Lottery license of businesses that reportedly allow prohibited items to be purchased with EBT funds for 30 days, increased penalties for storeowners who fail to check the identity of the person making a purchase with EBT funds, and enhanced penalties for the trafficking of EBT cards. The Republican Caucus was also successful in securing several amendments that will require DTA’s fraud detection program to refer any cases of suspected fraud to the program integrity division within the department and the bureau of special investigation unit within the State Auditor’s office. Another notable GOP amendment will require DTA to conduct an enhanced review of clients that use cash assistance outside Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Vermont. “I’m very encouraged by the inclusion of several GOP amendments that were adopted during formal session. This bill further strengthens last year’s efforts to limit inappropriate purchases made with EBT funds.” Knapik offered. In an effort to lift beneficiaries out of poverty and into stable employment, the proposed legislation will require applicants to search for a job prior to receiving cash assistance and provide DTA with specific information regarding their job search. Applicants will also be required to provide this information within 30 days of applying for benefits, and sign all job search documentation under the penalties of perjury. The bill tightens current eligibility and verification rules by requiring self-declarations by applicants or recipients of transitional aid to families with dependent children (TAFDC) be signed under the penalties of perjury. Additionally, the bill prohibits self-declarations from being used as the only verification of eligibility. Further, work participation forms will be required to be verified by a third party, also under the penalties of perjury, in order to ensure the validity of self-reporting. The bill also institutes a 3-month time limit on the validity of placeholder social security numbers and suspends the benefits of individuals who do not provide a valid social

security number within the specified time limit. If approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the Governor, this proposal will require DTA to collaborate with The Commonwealth Corporation to revamp the FullEmployment Program that was originally established in the 1995 welfare reform package to place recipients in full-time employment instead of on the state dole. The Commonwealth Corporation will work in conjunction with the business community, community colleges, vocational schools, and other workforce training programs to identify jobs, programs, and resources for applicants that need additional skills and training to participate in the fullemployment program. Participants of the Full-Employment Program who secure a full-time job will be eligible to receive a childcare voucher during the first year. Businesses that participate in the FullEmployment Program will receive reimbursements through the Mass Health Insurance Partnership Program. The Mass Health reimbursement provision is also extended to participants of the program. Under the proposed legislation, DTA is slated to receive funding to hire 50 additional caseworkers and to train 50 additional caseworker specialists. Caseworker specialists will help teen parents and others in need of specialized services. Each DTA office would be required to have one caseworker specialist whose maximum caseload would be 60. The bill directs DTA to develop an asset development program which would allow recipients to save money for first, last, and a security deposit towards a future residence. These accounts will not be considered a countable asset when determining eligibility. The proposal will require dependent children age 16 and under to attend school in order to be eligible for subsidized housing. If a child has 8 unexcused absences in a school quarter, that family will be placed on probationary status. The family will lose eligibility if the child has 3 unexcused absences while on probationary status. This bill will also expand eligibility requirements for teen living programs and teen parent shelters by allowing teen parents at any stage of pregnancy to be eligible for benefits. Additionally, this bill will require the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS)

to develop an integrated eligibility system that allows multiple state agencies and programs to access and share data in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. In response to the DTA-backed voter registration mailing to 477,944 public benefit recipients, of which 19,000 were returned as undeliverable, Senator Knapik offered two amendments relative to voter registration mailings by state agencies. The mailing cost the taxpayers approximately $275,844. Other critical provisions included in the bill would: • • • Increase the current vehicle exemption to 1 vehicle of any value per household; Increase the work-related expense deduction from $90 - $150; Require DTA to consider the income and assets for applicants who do not provide the required information about citizenship or immigration status; • Require DTA to develop a plan to reduce paperwork and progressively eliminate the need to use hard copies of forms; • Require DTA to seek federal exemptions and waivers to implement the bill and voids any section of the bill that is inconsistent with federal law or regulations unless DTA receives an exemption or waiver; To ensure progress is made, the proposal will require DTA to submit 6 reports to the Legislature including a report on the number of exemptions and extensions granted and the reason for granting; how long recipients have been receiving benefits; why the recipients are not reaching economic independence; the number of cases referred to the program integrity unit and the results of their investigation; the number of economic independence accounts opened; and the number of recipients who are eligible non-citizens. “As stewards of the public purse, Legislators have an obligation to protect the taxpayers of the Commonwealth from waste, fraud, and abuse. This bill addresses many of the difficulties that have been brought to our attention in recent reports by the IG and State Auditor. The bill goes a long way to ensure transparent measures are in place to help restore program integrity,” Knapik

concluded. The return package, estimated to cost of $28.1 million, will now go before the House of Representatives for review and debate. ###