Family Welfare Caps Lose Favor in More States
Originally posted by Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts
Since the 1990s, nearly half the states have denied additional cash assistance to low-income mothers who have more children while receiving welfare.
But in recent years, so-called family cap laws have fallen out of favor. Last week, Massachusetts became the latest state to repeal its family cap, when state lawmakers overrode a veto by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Massachusetts joins New Jersey, which effectively repealed its cap last year as part of its budget — after two previous attempts were vetoed by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie. California repealed its maximum family grant rule in 2016.
Six other states — Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming — have repealed their family caps since 2002, according to data compiled for Stateline by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that tracks the laws.
Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia still have family caps in place, according to the Urban Institute.
Critics of the caps point to research showing they fail to dissuade welfare recipients from having additional children. Instead, researchers say, they can harm children’s health and development and deepen poverty.
According to the Children’s HealthWatch, a nonpartisan team of researchers and pediatricians at Boston Medical Center, families of infants, toddlers and preschoolers who were subject to Massachusetts’ family cap reported more household and child food insecurity and poorer health among children.
The Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law came to a similar conclusion in a 2016 study. It found that family caps didn’t decrease the number of children born on public assistance and pushed families further into poverty.
In Massachusetts, the repeal means that a family will receive an extra $100 per additional child each month, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance. The law, which took effect immediately and is retroactive to Jan. 1, will affect 8,500 children, according to the agency.
The monthly payment for a family of three in Massachusetts in 2018 was $593, while a family of four received $691. The repeal will cost the state an additional $13 million a year.
“While $100 a month isn’t going to lift someone out of poverty, it’s a real concrete difference in being able to meet a family’s needs,” said Naomi Meyer, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services.
Meyer said the cap forced many Massachusetts families to scrimp on basics. She says parents have told her they delayed changing their babies’ diapers to save money, did their laundry in the bathtub and walked for miles to the grocery store because they couldn’t afford bus fare.
“These are really heartbreaking, devastating stories,” Meyer said.
But critics argue that repealing the caps will cost states more, discourage self-sufficiency and reward families for having more children.
“There are families in Massachusetts who don’t qualify for public assistance who decided not to have more children even though they may want them, because they won’t be able to afford them,” said Paul Craney, spokesman for Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for fiscal responsibility.
“Why should those who receive public assistance not have to make the same hard decisions?”
State Rep. Colleen Garry, a Democrat, was the lone vote against repeal in the Massachusetts House. “We need to remember the middle-class people we represent,” she told the Lowell Sun. “At some point, enough is enough.
“I personally have friends who would have loved to have more children, but they knew they could not afford the cost of raising additional children. There needs to be responsibility and accountability amongst individuals in the commonwealth.”