BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick said he’s encouraged by welfare system changes rolled out by Senate Democrats yesterday, but House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he still prefers to use the state budget to immediately address targeted reforms to curb abuses, while taking time to review the Senate plan.
Senate President Therese Murray and three of her fellow senators outlined a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s welfare benefit system focused on improving programs that can help transition recipients off public assistance and into the workforce.
The bill also includes a number of measures already adopted by the House, and scheduled for a second vote today, to curb abuse and fraud such as requiring photo identification on electronic benefit transfer cards.
“The system has been stagnant for a long time and we want to shake up the system,” Murray said at a Statehouse press conference, detailing a multi-faceted bill that updates reforms she helped author in 1995 as a newish senator in the last major welfare overhaul.
The bill would require applicants for public assistance to prove they have conducted a job search before receiving benefits, and asks the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Commonwealth Corporation to ramp up efforts to match welfare recipients with jobs, including the development of a job diversion program to connect people with work before they apply for and receive benefits.
Murray said she did find out until last September that many of the welfare-to-work reforms implemented under the 1995 law had been abandoned, including the “full-employment program” that former Gov. Mitt Romney ended 10 years ago.
“I really did not know that it was not being used,” Murray said of the job training and placement program for welfare recipients. “I knew that DTA didn’t like it because it was a lot of work, which is why we’ve moved the job training piece from them over to Commonwealth Corporation who know how to do this.”