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Bill seeks photos on EBT cards

Sponsor says welfare fraud is target

State lawmakers will again look at putting photo identification on welfare benefits cards in an ­attempt to cut down on fraud.

Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives has filed a bill that would require pictures on electronic benefit transfer cards, a measure she believes will help thwart people from using cards that do not belong to them.

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“It is going to address identity theft when cards are stolen from people,” O’Connor Ives said Wednesday. “It will also give vendors a tool if they are concerned about fraud.”

The Legislature shied away from the idea last year when a commission looking at the benefit card system expressed concern about the cost of processing photo IDs.

O’Connor Ives, a Newburyport Democrat, said she would like to see cost estimates so lawmakers can make an informed decision.

Welfare recipients used to have photos on their cards before federal food stamp benefits, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, were combined on the electronic benefits card, said ­O’Connor Ives. She suggested the state look at using existing driver’s ­license photos from the Registry of Motor Vehicles to cut costs. Only those without driver’s licenses would need to have their photo taken, she said.

O’Connor Ives said photo IDs are a simple measure to address abuses and will ensure that funding is there for people who need it. The bill also proposes that retailers who accept the cards post the Department of Transitional Assistance fraud hotline number in a visible area in the store.

The bill was sent to the joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities for ­review.

Welfare fraud made headlines recently after Glenn ­Cunha, the inspector general, released a report identifying serious concerns about the department’s processes for verifying eligibility of benefit recipients under the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.

The report said up to $25 million in public benefits might have been paid to families and individuals not qualified for assistance or those who failed to document their eligibility. After the report was released, Dan Curley, commissioner of the Transitional Assistance Department, was forced to resign.

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