The state's welfare system is prone to abuse and too little is done to help those receiving welfare assistance find gainful employment. The state Senate reform bill debated Thursday on Beacon Hill addresses these issues, and this bill or something akin to it should quickly find its way to the desk of Governor Deval Patrick.
A restructuring of welfare has long been needed, but an audit report in May that benefits were being provided to 1,160 individuals who were either dead or were using a dead person's Social Security number kick-started the reform process. The Senate bill would address this by requiring recipients to use electronic benefits cards with their photographs on them. Fraudulent collectors of benefits would be subject to perjury penalties, which would increase the punishment over the current system.
Welfare recipients are now asked if they sought work within 60 days of getting their first cash assistance, but under the reform bill they would be first required to seek employment through a state program, and will only receive funds if they are unable to find a job. Employers who hire a welfare applicant or recipient would be given a subsidy for health insurance costs and participants in this jobs program would receive free child care.
Ending welfare abuse is of critical importance, but it is only half the battle. It must be clear that welfare is not a way of life but a means of assistance until recipients can begin earning an income. Recipients do face a tough job market that many are underqualified for, which is where the state's jobs program would come into play. Stephen Brewer, the chairman of the Senate's Ways and Means Committee, has estimated that the bill would cost about $20 million to implement, but if it ends or reduces abuse and lowers the number of people collecting welfare it will begin paying for itself immediately.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo has expressed his desire to pass a welfare reform measure and Governor Deval Patrick has indicated his general support of the Senate bill as the debate process begins. The last welfare reform law in the state was passed 18 years ago and while it made significant differences it is showing wear and tear. The time is now for a significant upgrade that will benefit recipients and the state.