I sure didn’t plan to write three posts in a row about our Legislature’s fixation on welfare fraud. After the second of the posts, in which the Senate agreed with the House of Representatives that Massachusetts, alone among the 50 states, ought to require photo ID’s on welfare EBT cards (cost/benefit analyses showing that photo ID’s do very little to deter fraud be damned), I thought we might be done for a while.
I was wrong.
No sooner had Governor Patrick accepted the Legislature’s photo ID plan (along with a feeble plea that the usefulness of photo ID’s be reviewed in three years) than State Representative Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton), who seems to regard public assistance in the same way that Carrie Nation regarded alcohol, was holding a press conference on yet another faux scandal: some Massachusetts households receiving cash assistance (specifically, 43 of the 83,000 recipient households) have balances on their EBT cards in excess of $1500. “Clearly, fraud is happening,” she told the State House News Service. Her alarm bell was quickly broadcast by the Herald.
How, other than through the fraudulent behavior of the recipients, could such high balances have been reached, she and the Herald asked rhetorically. Well, for one possible answer, we need only to return to the Herald, which also ran a story last week about the glitches in the new computer system that distributes unemployment insurance benefits in the state. The paper told the story of a laid-off construction worker from Medford, whose $674 in week unemployment benefits unaccountably disappeared during the transition to the new system. “The system is inept and the people who run the system are inept,” he fumed, much to the Herald’s delight. But when that worker’s problem is resolved in say, a week or two, he will also receive the weeks of back benefits that were improperly withheld in the first place. At that point, the balance on his card will very likely top $1500 and we may then expect Representative O’Connell’s fury to be visited upon him, because “clearly, fraud is happening.”
A small beacon of hope that welfare wrathfulness may be running its course: the editorial board of the Taunton Gazette (Representative O’Connell’s hometown newspaper) suggested this week that there may be reasonable explanations for the (very few) high balance welfare cases and recommended that the Representative “stop, look and listen before she takes more cheap shots at the wrong targets, going as far as calling them criminals.” Let’s hear it for cooler heads, especially cooler heads from Taunton.
SIDEBAR: On the same day as her press conference on high-balance EBT cards, Representative O’Connell made an unsuccessful pitch on behalf of former State Representative Daniel Webster, who was seeking a seat on the Republican State Committee. “Dan Webster was a colleague of mine. He was a fighter up here at the State House. He helped me a lot and I think he has something to offer,” she said in support of his losing candidacy. Among the things Webster had to offer, which led to his defeat in the 2012 elections, were a trio of reprimands, two from the Supreme Judicial Court for misuse of client funds and one from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance for reporting violations. In Webster’s case, fraud was NOT happening. Clearly.