The state launched a new initiative on Tuesday that will eliminate high balances on EBT cards and suspend federal nutritional assistance benefits that are not being utilized, as officials continue a crackdown aimed at saving taxpayers’ money and protecting benefits for those who really need them.
“I was given a mandate from the Governor to do a top to bottom review of the agency and make changes to improve the way we do business,” said Stacey Monahan, commissioner of the state Department of Transitional Assistance, on Tuesday, in a statement. “The fact that some clients are accumulating high SNAP [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] or cash balances is inconsistent with the department’s goals of helping vulnerable individuals meet their most basic and immediate needs, and that’s why we are taking this action.”
According to the latest data, collected in March, the average account balance of those receiving cash assistance is $25.21, but six accounts were in violation of the DTA regulatory requirements and have electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card balances over $2,500, Monahan said.
Under the new cash assistance reform that was unveiled Tuesday, the small percentage of clients who are currently exceeding the $2,500 asset limit will have their accounts immediately closed, and no balances will be allowed to go over the limit in the future, according to Monahan.
The policy change will affect those who are receiving benefits under the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program or Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children plan.
The department will also expunge cash benefit balances on accounts that have been inactive for 90 days, the commissioner said.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo is pleased with the new restrictions, according to his spokesman, Seth Gitell.
“Speaker DeLeo welcomes moves to make sure these benefits go only to those in need as well as those included in the Legislature’s recent budget and supplemental budget, such as photos on EBT cards, the Bureau of Program Integrity and asset task force,” Gitell said Tuesday night.
As for federal SNAP benefits, the policy change will suspend all accounts that have been inactive for six months, and require the recipients to request reinstatement. Those who are reinstated will be subjected to increased case management, according to Monahan.
A majority of SNAP recipients with a balance over $7,000 are elderly residents with an instinct to save, she explained. But now, in order to ensure that recipients are still in need of benefits, and that they are not experiencing any barriers to accessing the funds, caseworkers will reach out to those with balances over $5,000 and conduct case reviews.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump released an audit in May that said hundreds of people may have fraudulently collected welfare or illegally sold food benefits for cash.
Legislation that would require photos on EBT cards is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at Haven.Egresitz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HavenTaylor.