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Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker unveiled a plan Tuesday he says will overhaul the state's welfare system by focusing more resources on helping those currently receiving benefits to transition to work.
Baker, the state's treasurer, said he would invest in job training, offer tax credits to employers who hire welfare recipients and give childcare vouchers to those trying to move off public assistance by finding a place to work.
Baker also said he would push to create an all-electronic benefits system by the end of his first year in office.
"By investing in measures to get people back to work and give them the tools to achieve economic stability and by stopping abuse, welfare can be reformed so that it provides a true safety net for those who need it," Baker said.
The Democratic-led Massachusetts House and Senate have already approved separate welfare overhaul plans and are currently trying to hammer out a single compromise piece of legislation.
Baker urged lawmakers to take final action on the legislation. Some of the proposals he outlined are included in the legislation being worked on by the six-member House and Senate conference committee. That includes the creation of a "Pathways to Self-Sufficiency" program that Baker said would offer education and employment assistance to help welfare recipients find work and move off public assistance.
Baker said those applying under his plan for welfare benefits would be required to search for work before they receive cash assistance. Recipients would be eligible for child care assistance during their first year to help ease the transition to a new job, he said.
Baker, who served as health and human services secretary under former Gov. William Weld, said he would ban the use of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards for international wire transfers and cut off benefits to anyone who spends at least 90 days a year out of state to cut down on fraud. Both the House and Senate welfare bills also include anti-fraud measures.
Baker said he'd reduce benefit extensions. Instead of allowing six-month extensions of benefits (besides the 24 months allowable under law), he would limit extensions to three months.
He said that while education should be an allowable substitute for the work requirement, the state should have a 24-month cap for four-year college or community college and a 12-month cap for vocational programs.
The Republican hopeful would also increase the age at which recipients become exempt from the work requirement from 60 to 66.
Steven Grossman, among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Baker should focus on other measures, including increasing the state's minimum wage and supporting a proposal to create mandatory earned sick time for workers.
"Charlie is trying to score cheap political points rather than offering real solutions to lift our most vulnerable friends and neighbors out of poverty," Grossman said.
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