SECTION 1. Section 5J of chapter 18 of the General Laws, as most recently amended by chapter 161 of the acts of 2012, is hereby further amended by striking the last sentence of the first paragraph of section 5J, and replacing it with the following sentence:—
A store owner who knowingly allows a prohibited electronic benefit transfer transaction in violation of this section, subsection (b) of section 5I, or section 5O, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $2500 for a first offense, by a fine of not less than $5000 for a second offense, and by a fine of not less than $10000 for a third or subsequent offense.
SECTION 2. Section 5J of Chapter 18 of the general laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after subsection (c), the following new subsections:—
(d) Subject to appropriation, the department shall promulgate rules and regulations to increase the education of benefit recipients and retail vendors regarding: statutory requirements An act relative to online payments for EBT cash recipients under sections 5I and 5J of this chapter; personal financial management, banking, and budgeting; and the online payment system outlined in Section 26A of this chapter.
(e) The department shall seek to increase acceptance of electronic benefit transfer cards at retail establishments, excluding those establishments prohibited to accept electronic benefit transfer cards pursuant to this section.
SECTION 3. Section 5N of Chapter 18 of the general laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end thereof, the following new sections:—
Section 5O. (a) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, six months following the passage of this act, the department of transitional assistance shall establish and maintain an online application process for businesses wishing to apply to accept electronic benefit transfer cards at point of sale. All businesses that wish to accept electronic benefit transfer cards at point of sale shall apply online on the department’s website. The list of businesses that shall not be approved includes, but is not limited to those establishments detailed in subsection (a) of section 5J of this chapter.
(b) The online application shall require, at minimum, the following information: name of store or business, including if different, corporation name or doing business as name; full address of business; owner name, owner phone number and address; standard industrial classification code; and an explanation of the business conducted by the establishment which includes the type of goods or merchandise sold.
(c) The department shall continuously maintain a list of any business, including, at minimum, all associated information as defined by subsection (b), declined by the department from accepting electronic benefit transfer cards. The list shall be made public on a quarterly basis.
(d) The online application shall include, at minimum, the following questions: Are you SNAP authorized?; Is this establishment a tavern or restaurant, as defined in section 1 of chapter 138 of the General Laws?; and, Have you ever been prohibited from accepting SNAP or electronic benefit transfer cards?. The online application shall include instructions requiring the applicant to agree to the following statement in order to accept electronic benefit transfer cards at point of sale: “I agree to abide by all state and federal laws governing the SNAP and direct cash assistance programs. I agree to report fraud immediately to the department of transitional assistance.”
(e) Upon approval of the application, the department shall issue an authorization number to the owner of the business. The owner shall display said authorization number in an area conspicuous to customers of the business.
(f) Any store owner who knowingly accepts electronic benefit transfer cards without the approval of the department shall be subject to the fines and punishments outlined in subsection 5J of this chapter.
(g) The department shall promulgate all rules and regulations necessary to carry out this section.
Section 5P. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, direct cash assistance issued by the Commonwealth shall not be used for purchases in states other than Massachusetts and states contiguous to Massachusetts. For the purposes of this section, contiguous states shall mean: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, and Vermont. The department of transitional assistance shall identify all violators on a monthly basis. Any eligible recipient who violates this section shall be disqualified from the program for not less than 3 months. The department shall notify the recipient that they must report in person to their local department of transitional assistance office to have their benefits reinstated. Any eligible recipient who violates this section for a second time shall be permanently disqualified from the direct cash assistance program.
SECTION 4. Section 22 of chapter 18 of the general laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting at the end of the first paragraph, the following sentence:—
Self-declarations by applicants or recipients shall not be accepted as verification of categorical and financial eligibility during eligibility evaluations and reevaluations.
SECTION 5. Chapter 18 of the general laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after section 26, the follow new section:—
Section 26A. (1)The department shall implement an online payment system accessible by computer or mobile device for cash assistance recipients to manage benefits and pay rent and utility bills by direct payment to a landlord or utility company by regularly deducting the amount of the rent or utility bill from the amount of the benefits otherwise payable to the recipient. The system shall, at minimum, allow recipients to track personal expenditures of cash assistance benefits, to view the balance of benefits received, and to orchestrate the direct regular payment of recipient rent and utility bills by the department. The department shall also consider including in the online payment system educational tools and suggestions regarding personal financial management, banking, and budgeting.
Whenever a determination is made that benefits have not been used in the best interest of the child or the assistance unit or other chronic misuse of benefits is occurring, the department shall manage the provision of benefits in the form of vendor payments with respect to rent and utilities. The department may presume mismanagement of benefits whenever shelter costs, including but not limited to, rent, heat, fuel, and utilities, have regularly not been met without reasonable cause. Upon an affirmative finding of the mismanagement of benefits by a recipient, the department shall re-examine the eligibility of said recipient to receive benefits.
At eligibility determinations and redeterminations, the department shall screen households to determine if they have chronically failed to pay rent and utilities to determine if it is appropriate to institute or terminate vendor payments and shall refer those households to the housing consumer education centers and community-based resources for assistance in meeting their expenses.
(2) No later than one year following the passage of this section, all cash assistance recipients shall have the option to manage benefits and pay rent and utility bills through the online payment system and shall receive cash assistance benefits equal to amount of the balance of benefits otherwise payable to the recipient following said online payments.
(3) No later than two years following the passage of this section, all new cash assistance recipients shall be required to pay rent and utility bills through the online payment system and shall receive cash assistance benefits equal to the amount of the balance of benefits otherwise payable to the recipient following said online payment. Existing cash assistance recipients shall continue to have the option to pay rent and utility bills through the online payment system.
(4) No later than three years following the passage of this section, all cash assistance recipients shall be required to pay rent and utility bills through the online payment system and shall receive cash assistance benefits equal to the amount of the balance of benefits otherwise payable to the recipient following said online payment.
(5) The department shall regularly evaluate the online payment system and the number of recipients utilizing and not utilizing the system to pay rent and utility bills. The department shall screen the households not utilizing the online payment system to determine if they have failed to pay rent and utilities and if they are using benefits in the best interest of the child or assistance unit. Following a determination of mismanagement of benefits, the department may reexamine recipient eligibility and investigate the possibility of eligibility fraud and shall manage the provision of benefits to said households in the form of vendor payments pursuant to subsection (1) of this section.
(6) The department shall promulgate all rules and regulations necessary to carry out this section.
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