Pubdate: Wed, 11 Jan 2012
Source: Daily News, The (Newburyport, MA)
Copyright: 2012 Eagle Tribune Publishing Company
Author: Brian Messenger, Staff writer


All applicants for welfare programs in Massachusetts would have to
pass a drug test before receiving public assistance, under a reform
bill being developed by state Sen. Steven Baddour.

Welfare recipients would also be barred from using their
government-issued Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at liquor
stores or anywhere outside the state.

Baddour is also pursuing a photo identification requirement for all
EBT cards and a cap on the amount of money that can be taken out using
the cards in a 24-hour period.

The measures are all part of the Methuen Democrat's attempt at
comprehensive welfare reform and could be tacked on to a bill Baddour
filed early last year at the start of the current legislative session.
Baddour said he'll look to file the additional drug-test requirement
and various EBT card restrictions in the coming weeks.

"We're trying to stop people from gaming the system," Baddour said
yesterday. "There are people who legitimately need a hand up in these
tough economic times. We're trying to protect these individuals and
trying to get at the people who abuse the system."

Under Baddour's proposal, every applicant for public assistance
through the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA)
must first pay for and submit to a drug test.

The estimated cost of a drug test is $40. If the applicant passes the
test and is approved for welfare benefits, they will receive
reimbursement from the state.

But if the applicant fails the drug test, they will be barred from
receiving benefits for one year, or six months if they enter a drug
rehabilitation program.

Baddour said people do not have the right to use drugs and receive
public assistance.

"It's illegal to use drugs," said Baddour. "We're not trying to punish
people. We're trying to make the system accountable, and we're trying
to make people responsible for their actions.

"If you're on drugs, you need help. We're trying to give people the
help they need."

Furthermore, if an applicant reapplies for benefits but fails a second
drug test, they'll face a two-year benefit ban. To limit the impact on
children, family members of the parents who fail drug tests would be
allowed to apply for welfare benefits on the children's behalf.

Baddour said similar drug testing programs are used in Florida and
other states. He said it would be the first "well-being" criteria used
to screen welfare applicants in Massachusetts. Currently, Baddour said
the state only uses financial metrics to screen applicants.

The DTA serves one out of every eight people in Massachusetts and is
expected to spend about $650 million on welfare programs this year,
according to the department's website.

Though he believes most welfare recipients play by the rules, Baddour
said "there is fraud throughout the system."

The bill Baddour filed last year also seeks major changes. Among

State and local police would be required to investigate and pursue
criminal charges against those suspected of welfare fraud. Currently,
only the DTA conducts investigations.

Health care professionals would be given the ability to report
suspected fraud.

Welfare recipients found in violation of state law or in contempt of a
court order, judgment, hearing decision or agreement would have their
benefits suspended.

Penalties for those who accept EBT cards for the purchase of alcohol,
lottery tickets and tobacco products would increase to a $1,000 fine
or imprisonment for no more than two years.

Baddour said the last major welfare reform in Massachusetts came in
the late 1990s.

"A comprehensive look at how we deliver transitional assistance is
long overdue," he said.

Baddour said he expects his bill will be controversial. He said his
goal is to work with the House and Senate leadership to make welfare
reform a part of the Legislature's agenda.

Baddour submitted written testimony on his bill yesterday during a
hearing of the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with

In his testimony, Baddour wrote that it is "offensive and frankly
disgusting when people use the state's generosity to their own
advantage. This is stealing.

"When I meet with constituents and talk about this bill, I get a room
full of heads nodding in agreement," Baddour wrote. "(This bill)
provides commonsense measures to ensure that those who need help get
it and those who are taking from the system wrongfully are weeded out
or punished." 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D