BOSTON (WWLP) - State Senate leaders unveiled a $40 million dollar welfare reform bill that includes about $20 million dollars in new spending. The legislation emphasizes putting the unemployed back to work by requiring people to start their job search first before receiving state assistance.
"The bill's focus starts off with a simple idea, before you even go on welfare and ideally as a substitute for it, we're going to ask you first to look for a job," said Sen. Michael Barrett (D-Lexington).
"It will also close the existing loopholes that continue to serve as incentives for individuals to stay on welfare instead of working," said Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth).
The legislation requires photo identification on EBT cards and increases the number of welfare fraud investigators. After visiting a Holyoke welfare office last month, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Stephen Brewer saw first hand and how caseworkers were using computers to investigate welfare recipients. The new legislation will let state agencies share data.
"Technology can make an important difference in the integrity of this matter," said Sen. Brewer (D-Barre).
Governor Deval Patrick has defended the state's welfare agency, saying that 99 percent of the time they make the right decisions. But he supports addressing government waste.
"I think one incident of misuse or abuse of the program is serious," said Patrick. "Any program can be improved. You know one of the biggest concerns …is how important it is to have welfare serve as a way forward and not a way of life."
The Senate will debate the welfare reform bill Thursday.