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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Veto of EBT reforms riles Mass. lawmakers

On July 8, 2012, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick approved the state's budget for 2013, but rejected supposed reforms to its electronic benefit transfer (EBT) program that would have restricted state government benefit recipients from using state-issued EBT prepaid cards to purchase such items as guns, cigarettes, lottery tickets and alcohol.

In vetoing the provisions, Patrick said he followed the recommendation of the special commission formed to research the reported abuses of the EBT cards. According to Patrick, the commission rejected the restrictions for "reasons of feasibility, enforceability, cost and undue harm to households enrolled in cash assistance programs.

"The commission instead concluded that prohibitions on usage in particular establishments, rather than prohibitions on particular items, were appropriate and feasible. I see no reason, other than political grandstanding, to deviate from that basic conclusion."

Several backers of the proposed reforms, including Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, disagreed with the governor's decision. The Boston Herald quoted Hedlund as saying, "A lot of people in the Legislature, and a lot of taxpayers for that matter, believe there are a lot of problems with our EBT system. Some of us have worked hard to try to address those problems. Some of us actually take our jobs seriously, and to be accused of political grandstanding, I think it's irresponsible and immature of the governor to speak that way."

The Boston Herald report said members from both houses of the Massachusetts legislature backed the reform efforts. A bill, S. 98, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, would have imposed restrictions on EBT usage and enforced a combination of fines and possible jail time for store owners and employees who accepted EBT cards as payment for banned purchases.

"State oversight of the EBT program has been far too lax, and has allowed recipients to manipulate the system at the expense of the taxpayers who fund these benefits," Tarr said. "Published reports continue to provide examples of the types of abuses that we are trying to prevent…"

Hedlund, who cosponsored S. 98, said in a December 2011 statement that the EBT system was being abused systematically, with no state oversight of the program. He noted at the time that the most recent reported abuse of EBT cards in Massachusetts involved individuals who used EBT cards at convenience stores to withdraw cash subsequently used to purchase crack cocaine. Hedlund added authorities alleged the stores were complicit in the scheme as they kept half the withdrawn cash as a fee. end of article

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