Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration is teaming up with law enforcement to crack down on welfare benefit abuse through a new data-sharing program. Chelsea police chief Brian Keyes says police are anxious to access agency information that indicates electronic benefits cards – EBT’s – are being used at prohibited establishments, like liquor stores.
“In the past it’s something that, to be really quite honest, it’s been happening under the radar. So now that we can join forces together I think we can really have a strong proactive effort to really go after these individuals who violate the law.”
Misuse of the cards can draw misdemeanor and even felony fraud charges, Keyes says. Abuse of EBT’s has been a hot topic on Beacon Hill since last year, when several high-profile cases hit the media. Advocates for the poor have been wary the new measure might hurt legitimate beneficiaries, or even lead to racial profiling by store owners. And they are not entirely comfortable with the new proposal either. Frank Anzalotti is president of the West Springfield-based Massachusetts Package Store Association.
“It raises some concerns if in fact names of individual businesses are going to be shared. And I imagine a lot of my members are going to be concerned.”
A health and human services agency spokesman says retailer names will be shared with law enforcement. A budget proposal includes a requirement that E-B-T cards include photo-IDs. But Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanwicz says that would be costly, while a study during the Romney administration showed they don’t do much to prevent prevent fraud. But Polanwicz stopped short of outright opposition to the House plan.