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Mass. Senate unveils new welfare bill

Legislation aimed at curbing EBT abuse, encouraging employment

Welfare applicants would need to prove they have searched for employment before receiving cash benefits, under legislation that Senate leaders unveiled Monday morning.

The bill, which comes in the wake of widespread reports of fraud and abuse, would prod welfare seekers to find jobs through a state-run program before applying for benefits. That provision is designed to encourage unemployed people who would otherwise seek public assistance as a first option instead to test the job market.

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“The system has been stagnant for a long time,” said Senate President Therese Murray at a State House press conference. “And we want to shake up the system, and give people some hope, too.”

The Senate will take up the bill on Thursday, Murray said, break-neck speed for Beacon Hill legislation.

The bill rolled out on Monday would also require adult welfare recipients to use EBT cards with photographic identity and impose penalties of perjury for fraudulent declarations of identity. Fraud on work participation forms would trigger perjury penalties.

The legislation also calls for pregnant teens to see increased access to shelter from the start of their pregnancies. Under current law, the value of a welfare recipient's vehicle is calculated into his or her asset assessment. Under the Senate bill, one vehicle per household would be exempt from the asset calculation. That change, said state Senator Michael Barrett, would allow families to drive to their jobs without incurring punitive measures.

For Murray, whose presidency is prescribed by Senate rules to end in early 2015, the legislation is designed to serve as something of a career bookend. The first major piece of legislation which Murray played a significant role in writing after coming to the Senate was the 1995 welfare reform law. On Monday, Murray said that measure cut the state’s number of recipients by half.

James O’Sullivan can be reached at james.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @josreports.

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