NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

June 3, 2013

Editorial: Time to begin reforming welfare iis now

It took an army of the dead to do it, but it seems the Massachusetts Legislature has awakened to the need for some meaningful changes in the state’s welfare system.

The dead are the 1,164 welfare recipients who a state audit found continued to receive public assistance long after departing this world. Or, we should say, “began to receive,” because in some cases the departed didn’t begin “collecting” until after they had gone to meet their maker. Payments continued for as long as two years or more after the beneficiaries’ demise.

The total cost of the “questionable public assistance benefits” to the deceased during the period examined by state Auditor Suzanne Bump’s team: $2.4 million.

In the typical case, the audit found, electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards sent to the deceased were used by the living to purchase things or draw cash.

The audit found other fraud indicators: $27 million in EBT benefits collected out of state or out of country in just six months, $15 million in suspicious EBT transactions that went uninvestigated, the disappearance of 30,000 EBT cards from one Department of Transitional Assistance office and much more.

All of this comes on top of earlier reports that the DTA failed to verify the eligibility of recipients who collected $25 million in benefits and did not know the whereabouts of another 19,000 recipients.

Defenders of the welfare system, like Gov. Deval Patrick, claim to be outraged about any welfare fraud but at the same time claim it is insignificant and bristle at questions about what they are doing about it.

The short answer is nothing.

If Patrick remains in denial about welfare fraud, the Democratic leaders of the Legislature acknowledge there’s a big problem and propose to do something about it.

That includes requiring a photo ID on EBT cards to prevent people from collecting benefits they’re not entitled to.

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