Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray disclosed a comprehensive welfare reform bill this morning that focuses on helping welfare recipients find jobs. It includes the creation of a “full-employment program” that focuses on job placement and not monetary assistance. The bill, An Act to Foster Economic Independence, will require welfare recipients to meet stricter requirements in order to receive assistance, including proof that they are looking for work.
Photo identification on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards is also likely to be required under the bill, due to issues with identity fraud.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions with law enforcement personnel who have told us about the multiple identities,” said Murray. “When they arrest some people, they have multiple identities on them including multiple EBT cards and Social Security cards.”
The bill also sets aside $5 million to start the employment program and provide funding to review the costs of the Department of Transitional Assistance’s employment and training service programs, as well as $2.9 million to hire new investigators and caseworkers. It will reduce the days a recipient can be out of the state before losing welfare benefits from 60 to 30. It will also create a three-month limit for Social Security placeholders, prohibit self-declarations as an acceptable form of verification, and fortify work exemptions for elderly and pregnant women.
“This bill will close the existing loopholes that continue to serve as incentives for individuals to stay on welfare instead of working, threatening the economic independence of many of our residents in the system, and, in unfortunate cases, allow some recipients to game the system,” said Murray.
Murray is also considering ways to reduce “disincentives” that discourage welfare recipients from leaving the rolls, including the loss of day care for recipients who are able to find jobs. She also pointed out the need to limit the handling of waivers to the welfare law.
“We used to be highest in the nation for teen pregnancy. We became almost the second lowest, because we took away the incentives to stay in a system that’s broken and keeps people in poverty,” Murray said, referring to the three-year welfare reform bill passed in 1995. “I can get that there were waivers given during that period, but we are not in that position anymore and we can’t afford to do this.”
Several welfare bills will be before the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities at a Tuesday hearing.