As many of you may recall, Massachusetts passed a law mandating that SNAP (Food Stamp) recipients have photo ID’s on their EBT cards. We strongly opposed this move, citing that it is against federal regulations, it is cost prohibitive, it has no proven link to curbing abuse or fraud (which contrary to popular believe is very minimal), it is confusing for retailers, and it creates a hardship and stigma for many SNAP recipients. Now the USDA has publicly criticized Massachusetts implementation of the law, demanding the state take corrective action immediately. See the press release below from Mass Law Reform and the ACLU.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Patricia Baker, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Sarah Wunsch, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT CRITICAL OF MASSACHUSETTS’ IMPLEMENTATION OF PHOTO EBT POLICY
USDA Finds State in Violation of Federal Policies, Adversely Affecting Access to Benefits
(Boston, MA, December 3, 2014) — On December 2, 2014 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees state administration of the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), issued a strongly worded letter to the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistant (DTA) criticizing the agency’s implementation of the state’s new law requiring photos on food benefit cards. USDA cited several areas of noncompliance with federal law and demanded corrective action.
Federal law permits states to place photos on EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards, but only if the state ensures that anyone in the household can use the card to access benefits, regardless of whose picture is on the card. In addition, all customers must be treated fairly and equally and retailers cannot discriminate against EBT cardholders. States must also ensure that exemptions from the photo requirement for seniors and persons with disabilities are clearly explained and that the photo process does not result in delays in accessing benefits.
USDA found that Massachusetts was not in compliance with federal law and did not meet its core responsibilities after implementing the photo EBT law a year ago. Among its findings, USDA cited DTA for failing to properly notify retailers of the federal non-discrimination provisions and failing to inform recipients of the exemptions from the photo requirements or their rights in using the EBT card. The state also failed to ensure eligible recipients had access to their benefits on time, and failed to train workers tasked with carrying out the new policy.
Anti-hunger advocates at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts welcomed the USDA letter. “The state has failed to ensure food stamp recipients do not suffer discrimination and humiliation at the check-out line. Their policies to date have caused children, seniors, people with disabilities, low wage workers to suffer inappropriate denials or long, unnecessary delays in accessing critical food and nutrition benefits.” said Patricia Baker, MLRI Senior Policy Analyst.
ACLU of Massachusetts attorney Sarah Wunsch noted that stores that deny food stamp recipients of their rights may be liable under the state consumer protection and public accommodations laws. “We think DTA is responsible when that happens because they have never adequately informed recipients nor demanded stores comply with the rules requiring fair and equal treatment of those using food stamps.”
“DTA’s implementation of the EBT photo card requirement in Massachusetts has been flawed from the start,” stated Baker. “Thousands of low income households lost access to their SNAP benefits 12 months ago and implementation problems persist today. We hope that DTA will swiftly implement the corrective actions required by USDA, comply with federal law and allow SNAP recipients to access benefits. Creating barriers that prevent or deny the neediest among us from getting food and nutrition assistance is not what our Commonwealth is about. We can and must do better.”
# # #
About Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) is a statewide nonprofit poverty law and policy center. Its mission is to advance economic, racial and social justice through legal action, policy advocacy, coalition building, and community outreach. www.mlri.org
About the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (ACLUM) is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all residents of the state. www.aclum.org
Mass Law Reform Institute