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June 19, 2013

Senate proposes changes in welfare

Tarr pushing for even more changes

BOSTON — Senate Democratic leaders have unveiled a plan to overhaul the state’s welfare system by moving more recipients off public benefits and into the workforce while reducing the potential for fraud and waste.

However, Gloucester’s state senator, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, while praising the bill as a “prime opportunity” to reform the welfare system, said it doesn’t go far enough. He said that Republicans plan to offer amendments to strengthen the proposal.

The proposal, touted by its supporters as one of the most comprehensive attempts at welfare reform in the country and the most sweeping in Massachusetts in nearly 20 years, is scheduled for debate by the full Senate on Thursday and followed several critical examinations of the state’s welfare agency.

The bill would require more than $22 million in new state spending, but Senate leaders say the costs would be offset by taking more people off welfare rolls and eliminating abuse.

Several provisions also target a so-called “cliff effect,” which keeps many recipients on welfare because it’s better for them financially than working at a low-paying job.

Able-bodied people would be required to seek work — first on their own and later with the help of state-sponsored job training programs — before they can collect benefits, said Senate President Therese Murray.

The bill would also “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 our residents in the system and in unfortunate cases, allowing some recipients to game the system,” Murray said.

Among the proposals to counter fraud is a requirement that photo IDs be put on all electronic benefit transfer cards used by welfare recipients by August 2014. Critics of the EBT cards, which work much like bank-issued debit cards, say they frequently fall into the hands of unauthorized individuals.

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