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Patrick backs $125m bill but offers welfare changes

Making the first of several major spending decisions to come in the next few days, Governor Deval Patrick said Thursday that he will sign a $125 million supplemental budget for fiscal 2013 and that he generally supports a requirement that photo identification be added to electronic benefit transfer cards for welfare recipients.

However, Patrick returned the EBT welfare provisions with amendments that would require a study of the program’s effectiveness and exempt seniors, the blind, disabled, and victims of domestic violence who receive benefits from the photo ID provision.

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The governor also vetoed $7.3 million in spending from the bill, including $2 million in mitigation payments to communities that host prisons and jails, $1.5 million for prostate cancer research, and $900,000 for expenses incurred in some cities and towns as a result of severe weather. Patrick called the spending nonessential.

The bill, which would backfill spending accounts for the fiscal year that ended July 1, directs $10 million in new spending into youth summer jobs programs, pays off $55.7 million in bills for snow and ice removal last winter, and reimburses $13.6 million in state and municipal costs associated with the Senate special election.

Patrick’s office highlighted an amendment to the EBT card plan asking the Department of Transitional Assistance, the inspector general’s office, and the auditor’s office to review the effectiveness of adding photos to EBT cards and report back in three years. He also said he would seek $2.5 million in a future budget request for fiscal 2014 to fund implementation of the photo ID requirement. The Senate estimated it could cost as much as $5 million.

But the amendment filed by Patrick would also require regulations authorizing all members of a household to be authorized to use the photo EBT card. The governor also wants the fraud hotline number and DTA website printed on all cards.

Proponents of adding photo ID to welfare benefit cards argue that it will help reduce illegal trafficking of the cards, but critics suggest it puts a burden on the elderly and disabled who may rely on others to do their shopping. Opponents also frequently point out that Governor Mitt Romney ended the photo ID program during his administration because the benefits did not outweigh the cost of running the program.

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