After several reported cases of welfare fraud in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services announced a new partnership Thursday with the Department of Transitional Assistance to prevent additional fraudulent cases from happening.
“We’re giving local law enforcement the data and information they need to ensure that clients and retailers are abiding by the law,” said John Polanowicz, secretary of MHHS, in a press release Thursday. “This partnership is an important step forward for DTA, and it will help us protect benefits for those who need them as a bridge to stability during tough times.”
Recent fraudulent incidents include a former employee of the New Bedford Housing Authority pleading guilty and being sentenced for stealing $13,800 from the agency by submitting fraudulent expense reimbursements, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office April 8.
Another case involves a Brockton man pleading guilty to collecting more than $32,000 of unemployment benefits while continuing to work, according to a release from the AG’s office April 5.
Polanowicz said the partnership will build on the DTA’s 100-Day Bridge to Stability plan announced March 28 that will enhance the welfare program integrity and service and restore public trust in DTA programs that faced fraudulent activities.
The plan will include increased data matching and integrity functions through the requirement of photos on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards and monitoring of ATM and point-of-sale withdrawals to identify any purchases made at prohibited establishments, according to the release.
“DTA has implemented aggressive and proactive steps to enhance program integrity as part of our 100-Day action plan,” said Stacey Monahan, interim commissioner of the DTA in a statement. “We have launched automated data matches, $5 replacement fees for EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer] cards and bi-weekly monitoring of ATM [Automated Teller Machine] and point-of-sale transactions.”
Chief Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, said in the release that the collaboration between the law enforcement and DTA is important for the integrity of the programs.
“Our participation will help provide the DTA with the necessary evidence to take action against those who intentionally violate the law,” he said.
Brian Dempsey, chairman of the Mass. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said in a letter April 10 that as part of the House’s budget, his committee will establish the Bureau of Program Integrity to handle issues with welfare programs.
“[The Bureau of Program Integrity] will provide continuous oversight of public assistance programs while maintaining eligibility verification and ensuring we focus our state resources on those residents most in need of our assistance,” he said.
Sana Fadel, director of public policy at Rosie’s Place, said the requirement of pictures on EBT cards is a waste of money that could be spent on other aspects of welfare assistance programs.
The perception of fraud within such welfare programs has been blown out of proportion, Fadel said.
“Things get magnified so badly in the media that there is a lot of suspicion that poor people are using the benefits wrong,” she said. “A lot of these accusations are based on misconceptions of racial biases.”
Fadel said the increase of regulations on cash assistance policies make it difficult for families who are already struggling to receive the help they need.
“We spend the majority of the time at Rosie’s Place helping women get the paperwork together to prove they actually need the assistance,” she said. “The more that is required, the more difficult it is for them to receive benefits.”