After agreeing with changes made by the House of Representatives, the Washington State Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 5921, the first substantive reform of the state’s welfare program since 1997. Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, sponsored numerous bills during the 2011 legislative session that were eventually combined into SB 5921.
“This is a major change in welfare policy in the state of Washington and recognition that we simply cannot let the misfeasance that has taken place over the last decade or so to continue,” said Carrell, a longtime advocate of cracking down on welfare fraud and abuse within the state Department of Social and Health Services. “I certainly wish the bill would have gone much farther, but it is still a major improvement over current practices.”
Under SB 5921, a public assistance recipient cannot use an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card or cash obtained with an EBT card for tattoo or body art, to purchase tobacco or alcohol, for gambling, bail bonds, or adult entertainment. He or she also cannot sell, exchange or donate an EBT card to another person. Under Carrell’s original proposal, violations would have resulted in a gross misdemeanor charge, however the House changes reduce the penalty to a civil infraction.
SB 5921 will also create an Office of Fraud and Accountability reporting directly to the secretary of DSHS, as well as transform the state’s WorkFirst program by implementing performance-based contracts, ensuring that the program succeeds at getting people back to work.
“I’m very pleased that this proposal was met favorably by members from both parties and from both chambers, and I hope the governor will sign the bill without vetoing any portion,” Carrell said. “I intend to continue working to expose waste, fraud and abuse within state agencies and searching for ways to fight it. At a time when state taxpayers are already under a heavy burden, it’s our responsibility as legislators to ensure their hard-earned contributions aren’t being wasted on those intent on defrauding the system.”
SB 5921, co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Regala, a Tacoma Democrat, is a combination of two Carrell bills from the regular session; Senate Bill 5877, which would have created the Office of Fraud and Accountability within DSHS, and Senate Bill 5327, which would have limited the use of EBT cards. SB 5921 will now go to the governor to be signed into law.