BOSTON – Photo identification would be required on electronic benefit transfer cards for most Massachusetts welfare recipients under a provision backed by state legislators Monday.
The measure was attached to a supplemental spending bill for the state fiscal year that ended Sunday. The House and Senate approved the bill on unanimous votes.
The proposal would mandate that photos be placed on EBT cards used by recipients over the age of 18, but it would exempt the elderly and disabled from the requirement.
Another provision would create a task force on welfare verification and eligibility that would include the state attorney general, state treasurer and inspector general, among others.
“It’s not my position to hurt poor people. That’s not what this is about,” House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters after leaving a House Democratic caucus. “What this is about is to stamp out fraud and abuse.”
DeLeo pointed to reports of cards being used to purchase items such as tattoos or to pay bail money.
“That has to stop. We have to stop that kind of abuse and that was what this legislation was all about,” he said.
Lawmakers have been under pressure to clamp down on the cards — which function much like debit cards for welfare recipients — after several reports detailing alleged abuse.
For example, a recent audit from state Auditor Suzanne Bump pointed to hundreds of cases in which EBT cards belonging to people who had died were continuing to be used by unauthorized people.
Gov. Deval Patrick, who disputed the scope of the auditor’s report, has said he would be open to requiring photos on the cards. But he also noted that former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration nixed the idea of photos when the cards were introduced in 2004 after determining that the benefits of photo IDs did not justify the expense involved in implementing the system.
The photo requirement was also part of a more comprehensive welfare reform package that passed the Senate earlier this month and is pending in the House.
The Legislature separately approved as part of the state budget a new independent bureau within the state’s welfare agency charged with detecting and preventing fraud in public benefits programs. The budget is for the fiscal year starting Monday.