SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

January 1, 2014

Feds question photo ID rollout on EBT cards

BOSTON — A top federal government official is troubled by the way the Patrick administration is rolling out a new photo identification requirement on welfare benefit cards, saying that some cards had been erroneously deactivated and prevented recipients from accessing food assistance.

Jessica Shahin, associate administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), wrote a letter to Health and Human Service Secretary John Polanowicz last week, detailing the federal government’s concerns over the way the photo program is being implemented on electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.

“The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is deeply concerned about issues related to implementation that are adversely affecting client access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits,” Shahin wrote, according to a letter obtained by the News Service.

The Department of Transitional Assistance began rolling out photos on EBT cards in mid-November, four months after lawmakers passed the new requirement aimed at cutting down on fraud and abuse. Under the law, DTA had up to 12 months to replace all EBT cards that require a photo ID.

“FNS understands that the photo EBT requirement is a state law; however, the sheer volume of households potentially without access to their benefits suggests that DTA has pursued a rushed implementation of the requirement without taking care to put adequate safeguards in place for eligible, participating households,” she wrote.

DTA Commissioner Stacey Monahan told the News Service that the department did have procedures in place to remedy any problems for those receiving new cards. She described the implementation overall as “really successful.”

“We put a lot of safeguards in place prior to mailing cards,” she said.

Gov. Deval Patrick agreed to the photo ID requirement as part of a budget bill he signed in July, with supporters of the measure saying it would help prevent benefit fraud and ensure that public assistance benefits flow only to the proper recipients. Patrick in July sought $2.5 million to implement the photo ID requirement.

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