House orders study of biometrics in public assistance

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 28, 2015……The state’s welfare office would be required to study the feasibility of implementing a “biometric authentication system” under an omnibus budget amendment passed by the House Tuesday.

Under the provision, the Department of Transitional Assistance and the Office of Health and Human Services would be required to study the feasibility of using biometrics – which includes fingerprints – to reduce fraud in public benefit programs.

The language, part of a $15.4 million amendment assembled by the House Committee on Ways and Means, cleared the House on a 158-0 vote Tuesday afternoon.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican, proposed budgetary language on the biometrics study, which was wrapped into a so-called consolidated amendment. According to Jones’ office, fingerprinting has saved state and county governments millions around the country and Texas and New Jersey have contracts for biometric pilot programs.

The notion of fingerprinting welfare recipients is sure to rankle some advocates who previously objected to photo ID on electronic benefit cards.

The amendment also more than doubled the funding for employment and training for those receiving transitional aid to families with dependent children, bringing the amount up to $11.2 million, up from the $5 million included in the original House Ways and Means budget proposal.

The budget hit the House floor Monday with a $38 billion bottom line and lawmakers have been adding to that based on backroom debates over amendments.

Transitional aid to families with dependent children, a Department of Transitional Assistance program, would increase by $6 million under the amendment. The amendment also added $1.7 million for shelter and support services for people at risk of domestic violence.

The House also took steps in the amendment to shield personal information of Department of Children and Families social workers.

Other provisions in the consolidated amendment earmark state money for particular programs, including several entities that serve veterans. The Nathan Hale Outreach Centers would receive $200,000, the New England Veterans Liberty House would receive $50,000, and Springfield Partners for Community Action’s Veterans First Program would receive $100,000.

“Massachusetts leads the nation in support of our veterans,” Veterans and Federal Affairs House Chairman Jerald Parisella said on the House floor. He said, “We spend more per capita on veterans than any other state in the nation.”

Under a separately adopted amendment, anyone applying to adopt a child or provide foster care with the Department of Children and Families would be required to undergo state and national fingerprint criminal history checks. In addition, anyone who lives in a foster care or adoptive household who is 15 years or older would also be required to background checks.

All employees, interns and volunteers with DCF would also be required to have background checks, which mimic requirements currently followed by the Department of Early Education and Care. The background checks are to ensure DCF is taking appropriate precautions in hiring and placement of children, Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleboro) told her colleagues.

Increased oversight and stricter checks will reduce the risks for children cared for by DCF.

“It is incredible to me that we would put children, who are already experiencing trouble and are at risk, into a place where they could be again at serious risk,” Poirier said on the House floor.

“This certainly is something that none of us could go home and look ourselves in the mirror if we didn’t vote for it,” Poirier said before the Republican-led amendment was adopted 152 to 0.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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