Following concerns over welfare fraud in Massachusetts, state officials voted to fund a pilot project to study the use of fingerprints and other biometric identifiers to reduce fraud.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones wanted the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Department of Health and Human Services to study the technology. Jones, a Republican, believes the technology could save millions of dollars by stopping recipients from claiming benefits for which they are not qualified.
They state’s history of welfare fraud is underscored by two audits which revealed millions of dollars given as “questionable benefits,” sometimes for deceased people or others living out of state. State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office identified more than 1,000 cases of recipients receiving benefits six to 27 months after their deaths, totaling $2.39 million. The report also revealed $368,000 was paid to 178 guardians claiming dead people as dependents, and 40 people being claimed by more than one guardian.
A similar report by Bump’s office in December identified $9.5 million in fraud in 2014 resulting from false identities, under-reporting of assets and income and lying about employment status.
The penalty for welfare fraud is 10 years in prison and total repayment of the fraudulent benefits. Every month, 50,000 Massachusetts residents file for basic welfare benefits. Another 450,000 receive assistance in the form of food stamps, Salem News reports.
A biometrics system identifies fingerprints and facial patterns and cross-checks individual’s enrollment in public assistance programs.
Some residents support the idea. Evelyn Valley told Western Mass News, “A lot of people need it and some people take advantage. I think fingerprinting and drug testing too, anything they can do to get those people out who abuse the system.”
Other advocates for the poor and for privacy disagree, saying that such measures criminalize the poor and are humiliating. Despite protest in 2014, lawmakers voted to require photos on electronic benefit transfer cards, how food stamp recipients make their purchases, Biometric Update reports.
The clause is part of a budget amendment which passed the Massachusetts House 158-0. The Senate and the House will have to reach a budget compromise before holding a vote. It will then go to the governor to be approved or vetoed.
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