Massachusetts governor defends 'integrity' of EBT system following report of abuse

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker defended the state’s Electronic Benefits Transfer system on Tuesday after a report published earlier in the week suggested some participants in the tax-funded welfare program committed fraud to pay for vacations in Hawaii, Las Vegas and Alaska.

MASSACHUSETTS EBT CARDS WERE USED IN ELITE HOTELS IN HAWAII: REPORT

The Republican governor responded to a Monday report in the Boston Herald that said a review of more than 2 million EBT expenditures in the 2019 fiscal year revealed thousands of out-of-state transactions. EBT cards were swiped on 18 different occasions in Hawaii, including one that was used twice at a posh island resort where rooms fetch $800 a night, the paper reported. In one instance, an EBT card was also used to buy a $700 round-trip ticket from the state to Hawaii.

The state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), which operates welfare programs including the EBT system, bars cardholders from using the EBT cards for vacation services — but hotels are not banned. Baker's administration sent a response to the Herald Tuesday, saying that the governor has invested $1 million into “program integrity” at the DTA to bolster protocol already in place that detects forms of fraud.

The statement said the DTA conducted a “residency verification check” after two transactions mentioned in the report: a $400 EBT transaction in November 2018 at the Hanalei Bay Princeville Resort on the island of Kauai, in addition to a $140 transaction in January at the Sheraton Waikiki in Honolulu. Under current DTA rules, “if an EBT card is exclusively used out of state for 45 days, a household must provide proof of current Massachusetts residence.”

The household whose card was swiped at the Princeville resort “was asked to verify residency and did not, so the case was closed and benefits expunged from the card,” according to the DTA. The second household who used their EBT card at the Sheraton “was able to prove that their travel was temporary,” but their account was later closed “because they began receiving (Social Security), which makes them ineligible for cash benefits, and system controls closed the case.”

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The DTA’s response failed to address the EBT transactions recorded in Las Vegas and Alaska. The agency added that it “will continue to focus on identifying potential areas of fraud and abuse and strengthening internal controls so that benefits are administered to eligible households and used for permitted purposes.”

Fox News' Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.