Welfare photos shame holders as states target abuse

Bloomberg News
Diane Sullivan says that when she pulls out her food stamp card to buy groceries, she keeps the side with her photo cupped in her hand so people can’t see. More

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GOVERNMENT

Welfare photos shame holders as states target abuse

Bloomberg News
Posted 5/12/14

Diane Sullivan says that when she pulls out her food stamp card to buy groceries, she keeps the side with her photo cupped in her hand so people can’t see.

While Massachusetts requires her to have the identification to prevent fraud, the 40-year-old mother of five from Medford calls it “a card of shame.”

Maine and Georgia joined Massachusetts and New York last month in putting photos on welfare cards to stop misuse of taxpayer money, and similar proposals have been offered in a dozen other U.S. states. Opponents question whether it saves more than it costs. They also say it dissuades residents from getting benefits, much as critics of requiring identification to vote argue it keeps some from casting ballots.

“People sometimes make these snap judgments,” said Sullivan, who works part time as policy director at the nonprofit Homes for Families in Boston. “As soon as they see that I’ve got this photo card, they’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a poor woman who’s lazy. To see it gain steam in other states is extremely concerning to me.”

Recipients’ photos are being added to cards used to access federal benefits such as cash payments and food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Massachusetts used photos that about 170,000 recipients had on file with the Mass. Registry of Motor Vehicles and equipped offices with cameras to take pictures of the 55,000 who didn’t, said Stacey Monahan, commissioner of the Transitional Assistance Department.

Maine began adding photos April 28 in a pilot project, and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal in Georgia signed a bill the next day requiring them. States including Iowa, Rhode Island and Washington have introduced bills to add a photo to cards, require that recipients show a picture ID when using benefits or to study the question, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

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