Senator Jim Timilty (D-Walpole) announced Thursday that he joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in cosponsoring legislation to reform the electronic benefit transfer system by implementing stricter oversight and broader restrictions on how recipients are allowed to use their cards and direct cash assistance.
This bill comes after a special commission, authorized to study the EBT system after reports of widespread abuse of the cards, offered recommendations to lawmakers about how best to address the problem.
“The food stamps program was first implemented to help families with limited incomes meet their basic needs,” said Senator Timilty. “This update to current laws will help combat the number of abuses that have become so prevalent lately, ensure responsibility of recipients, and help us uphold the integrity of the program.”
Included among the provisions of the bill would be restrictions that would prevent recipients from using EBT cards and direct cash assistance at stores to purchase alcohol, tobacco products, lottery tickets, and firearms. It would also prohibit the cards from being used at spas, health clubs, and other non-essential venues.
Violators of these provisions would face an initial three month disqualification for first offenses and permanent disqualification for any additional offenses.
Violators would also be required to reimburse the Department of Transitional Assistance for the amount of purchases spent.
The bill imposes hefty penalties on businesses prohibited from accepting food assistance money and requires that they post signs as a reminder. The bill goes further by also restricting recipients from using their benefits outside of Massachusetts and its bordering states.
The initiative was filed by Republican Representative Shauna O’Connell of Taunton and Democratic Representative Russell Holmes of Boston, who both served on the special commission charged with looking into the EBT system.