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July 15, 2013

Governor eyes 'exemptions' to EBT card IDs

BOSTON — State Republican lawmakers say the Patrick administration’s plan to eliminate high balances in benefit accounts of low-income families on electronic benefit transfer cards is “virtually useless,” and called on the governor to implement new rules under which any money over $1,500 reverts back to the state.

The governor, meanwhile, has instead proposed that several categories of recipients be exempt from a plan to require photo identification for any EBT card use.

“Clearly fraud is happening when someone can accumulate a balance of $12,000 on an EBT card and essentially make it a savings account,” state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell said during a conference last week with other GOP lawmakers outside the House chamber.

One day after the Department of Transitional Assistance unveiled its plan to prevent welfare recipients from stockpiling thousands of dollars in their food stamp or cash assistance accounts, O’Connell said it is not enough and suggested people will be allowed to keep high balances for too long before an investigation is launched.

Gov. Deval Patrick responded by saying not every instance where an electronic benefit transfer card has a large balance indicates fraud, noting a recipient might have experienced an extended hospital stay.

“That’s why we put the reforms in place we did,” Patrick told reporters. “Now not in every case does that mean that there has been fraud, but it certainly raises questions. The people who are eligible for these benefits are in many cases the poorest of the poor, so having an accumulated balance raises issues, but some people have been in a hospital for periods of time and are not using their benefits. There are all kinds of explanations.”

Asked what issues were raised in his mind, Patrick said, “All the ones you’d expect.”

While signing off first on a $125 million supplemental budget for fiscal 2013, and then a fiscal 2014 budget that includes cuts of more than $11 in local aid to cities and towns until, he said, the Legislature adjusts the spending plan to realistically fund state transportation needs,

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