BOSTON (WWLP) - Senate lawmakers debated a major welfare reform bill Thursday that encourages the recently unemployed to re-enter the workforce. It requires them to prove they've looked for work before receiving benefits.
"Yeah I'm broadly supportive of the bill, I think it's important to close some of the loopholes in our welfare system to make sure that the system and the program is there for people who work hard and play by the rules," said Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield).
The bill follows reports by the Inspector General and state Auditor who have uncovered millions of dollars in potential fraud. But the welfare legislation includes $22 million dollars in new spending – prompting critics to question whether it's cost-effective.
"Most of the new money is focused on job training," said Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst). "The whole point of this is to …make sure we get rid of the fraud and really focus on helping people get back to work."
Several anti-fraud measures are included in the bill – It requires photo identification on EBT cards by August 2014. It gives money to the Department of Transitional Assistance to hire more fraud investigators and caseworkers. And any self-declarations on eligibility must be made under penalty of perjury.
"We want to do everything we can here in the Legislature to crack down on that fraud and on waste and make sure that the money that we're …allocating through the welfare system is actually going to people who are truly in need," said SOT Sen. James Welch (D-West Springfield).
Senate lawmakers say the bill will likely be approved Thursday night. It will then be sent to the House, which has already approved its own set of welfare reforms in a mid-year spending bill.