New welfare rules target high EBT card balancesAP , Associated Press
Jul. 10, 2013 5:22 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — Welfare recipients who accumulate high balances on their electronic benefit transfer cards will have those cards shut down under new state rules.
Cash assistance recipients with balances above $1,500 will be notified to see if they still need assistance, and EBT cards with balances exceeding $2,500 will be closed, Stacey Monahan, commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance, announced Wednesday. The move, she said, would ensure that only clients who truly need benefits receive them.
The DTA will also begin contacting recipients of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with balances greater than $5,000 to ensure they still need the benefits.
"The fact that some clients are accumulating high SNAP or cash balances is inconsistent with the department's goal of helping vulnerable individuals meet their most basic and immediate needs, and that's why we are taking this action," said Monahan.
According to data provided by the state welfare agency for the month of March, about 83,000 households in Massachusetts received cash assistance and the average monthly benefit per household was $450.
The average cash balance during the month was $25.21, the DTA said, and 99.8 percent of recipients had balances of less than $1,000 on their cards.
Thirty-seven households reported balances above $1,500 and six exceeded $2,500, according to the data.
"People who are eligible for these benefits are in many cases the poorest of the poor, so having an accumulated balance certainly raises issues," Gov. Deval Patrick told reporters Wednesday.
But Patrick also added that there could be explanations for a higher than normal balance, such as a lengthy hospital stay for a recipient.
Officials said the new policy of shutting down cards with the high balances was consistent with DTA regulations requirements that limit countable assets for welfare recipients to under $2,500.
The SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, does not prohibit clients from accumulating high balances, but accounts that are inactive for six months will be now moved offline.
SNAP benefits cannot be converted to cash and can only be used to purchase household food.
Lawmakers have been pushing for EBT reforms in response to several recent reports critical of the system, including a state audit in May that found millions of dollars in questionable payments to people who were dead or otherwise ineligible for benefits. Patrick disputed the scope of that report, but he has ordered his administration to take immediate steps to end fraud and abuse.
Patrick has not yet said whether he plans to approve a budget amendment that would require photo identification on all EBT cards.