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MA Named 4th Biggest Welfare State

Friday, February 22, 2013


The Commonwealth was named the fourth biggest welfare state in the U.S. by CNBC, and one state Rep. says the issue is costing Massachusetts millions. 

Only a handful of states rate above Massachusetts in their Medicaid spending, which totaled $13.23 billion in 2011. The U.S. average that year was only $8.24 billion.

The Institute for Truth in Accounting used 2011 figures to show the percent of population on Medicaid in Massachusetts – 18.02 percent, compared to the national average of 15.99 percent. With almost one in five residents in Mass on Medicaid, that equals out to about 1,190,582 individuals, using 2011 numbers.

The issue has been tied to legislation, taxes, and politics, and Rep. Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton), says that while there has been a small bipartisan effort on Beacon Hill to cap this spending, her bill to diminish fraudulent entries into the system needs to be passed.

“This ‘wait and see’ attitude is letting millions of tax payer dollars go down the drain each and every day. I think we can easily say that there is over $100 million in taxpayer dollars being wasted here total,” she said. “I’m going to fight to get this legislation passed because this is exactly what we need – asset and identity verification to stop people from fraud entering the program. We need to act with a sense of urgency.”

Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance agreed with the state Rep., saying "The best thing our elected officials can do to reform welfare is to take steps to make MA more economically competitive with our neighboring states which will result in better paying jobs. The Governor's proposal to increase taxes and eliminate tax deductions will do nothing but hurt our economy and good paying jobs. We don't need more revenue, we need reform."

Welfare Spending

Courtesy the Institute for Truth in Accounting

In CNBC’s ranking, the state’s fourth place spot was earned by the percentage of the population on assistance, spending, total recipients, percent change in the past year, and unemployment. Only Tennessee, Maine, and California ranked higher.

According to figures from the Institute for Truth in Accounting, the only states to outspend the Bay State are California, Florida, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, landing Mass. 8th in the country for its Medicaid budget.

Foodstamps.com also gave the Bay State a top spot on its list of states with the largest welfare budgets using similar statistics.

The Institute for Truth in Accounting also looked at the percentage of residents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and State Supplemental Payment (SSP) recipients where the state was also above the national average, with 1.65 percent receiving these types of assistance compared to a national average of 1.22 percent.

Politics and Assistance “Leakage”

Chris Pinto, of the Worcester Republican City Committee, linked the issue to a vote that has recently been defeated on Beacon Hill. The state legislators in the House and Senate voted down a measure that would have prevented so much excess welfare spending.

“The fact that they never clean up any of the spending and when there is fraud, waste, abuse, and they don’t care about it is pretty disgusting,” said Pinto. “The interesting thing about that is that was the second vote in there on this proof of residency bill for public benefits.”

Pinto said that by looking at who voted against the bill, it’s clear to see what has to change to fix this issue.

“With only one exception all Dems voted against stopping the leakage,” he said, citing Rep. John Fresolo’s conservative record. “On Beacon Hill, if a bill is important to the speaker, he votes first. And the Dems know if they want to chair a committee, they better vote with the speaker, or they will be punished.”

Pinto said that since the votes aren’t published regularly, transparency has also been a large issue in the process of cutting back welfare spending.

Courtesy the Institute for Truth in Accounting

“It’s crooked,” he said.

O’Connell said that while there has been some progress made, legislators and the governor are not treating the issue with enough urgency.

“I think in the last two years, we’ve struggled to be move forward on welfare reform. We’ve gotten some good bipartisan legislation passed however there seems to be hesitancy to do the bold reforms that it will take to ensure a system that does not ensure waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

When asked what he thought would lead to a successful compromise and solution to the issue of high welfare spending, Pinto said that the GOP needs to get more members in the house.

“Otherwise Beacon Hill will continue to treat everybody’s wallet like their personal ATM. They don’t represent the taxpayers,” he said. “It’s criminal.”

O'Connell's legislation, she said, would stop the problem where it starts.

“I have legislation filed that will stop people from fraudulently entering into the system. It’s frontend, real-time eligibility verification. When you apply, your Social Security number will be matched against 27 publically available databases to ensure your identity, your assets, employment verification are in check," she said.

She stressed that while her legislation is trying to crack down on fraud, that welfare is an important program for a lot of people, but since the governor's leglect, it has been turned to waste.

"The governor does not support reforms. He has been fighting us every step of the way," she said. "This is a safety net program that is important to a lot of people, but the integrity of this program has been destroyed thanks to this administration allowing this to go on."

Compared to the Area

Compared to other states in New England, Massachusetts soared above the other states in Medicaid spending, and the gap has increased since 2009.

Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire are all comfortably under the $2.5 billion mark, while Mass’s bar peaks well above the rest. Vermont was the lowest in the region in 2011 at $1.3 billion, and New Hampshire wasn’t far behind at $1.37 billion.

While the population in the Bay State is also much higher, the state’s percent of enrollment is higher than most of New England. 


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