Massachusetts state officials are reviewing a pilot project that could require welfare recipients to be fingerprinted before receiving benefits.
The program, run by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transitional Assistance, will measure the use of biometric identifiers, like fingerprints and facial patterns, in the state’s mission to curb fraud.
Biometric identifiers will then be used to track an individual’s enrollment in public assistance programs through a cross-check system.
Massachusetts House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a Republican, sees promise in the plan to possibly save millions of dollars from those who “are gaming the welfare system,” reports Salem News.
The initiative has split Massachusetts residents.
“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,” said Springfield resident Evelyn Valley to Western Mass News.
But opponents of the plan say the measures are humiliating to the most vulnerable and that legislators should focus their efforts on the agencies that handle welfare services instead.
“They’ve been understaffed and underfunded for years,” said Melanie Malherbe, a managing attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. “That’s where the money should be going.”
A startling 2013 report by Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump revealed over 1,000 cases where welfare recipients continued to receive benefits more than two years after they died.
The same report also found that 178 guardians claiming dead individuals as dependents received $368,000 in benefits.
Another audit headed by Bump the following year reported $9.5 million in fraud from people assuming false identities, under-reporting their assets and income, or falsifying information about their employment.
In Massachusetts, welfare fraud is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and the repayment of the money.
The proposal is part of the state's budget and is a $15.4 million amendment that passed the House on a 158-0 vote in April. A final decision will be made once the Massachusetts Senate and house reach a budget compromise and hold a vote, later sending it to the governor for approval or veto.
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