Mass. finally repeals welfare family cap

BOSTON – A group of advocates waited outside of the Senate Chamber in late April, as lawmakers met in formal session. Some sat on chairs and chatted with companions, while others walked back and forth in the hall, sometimes peeking through the door seam with expectant eyes.

One hour later, Deborah Harris of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and state Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, emerged from the chamber. The advocates immediately clustered. After finding out about the result, the group burst into cheers. They waved a self-made banner and put on their blue caps, which were printed with a short caption in white, “We lifted the cap on kids.”

The controversial welfare family cap, which prevented families from receiving additional benefits if they have another child, was finally lifted after the sixth legislative vote to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s vetoes. State Rep. Marjorie C. Decker, D-Cambridge, and state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, were the lead sponsors of the bill.

Brooke Karanovich, the director of communications at Department of Transitional Assistance, said that changing the policy will cost an additional $13 million annually, and means that family size will now recognize all children in a household and be more consistent with other benefits programs.

“This is a day that we can all say, we made a difference in people’s lives, and our children are going to benefit from this,” DiDomenico said.

The welfare family cap has had a long history. Between 1992 and 2003, this legislation was adopted in 24 states. It discouraged childbearing by welfare beneficiaries and reduced the amount of money distributed to families receiving basic needs cash grants, according to the center on Reproductive Rights and Justice at Berkeley Law.

Children’s HealthWatch is another nonpartisan organization pleased to see the cap lifted. This group connects pediatricians, public health researchers and experts committed to improving children’s health in the United States.

“From 2010 to 2016, we found that almost one third of the caregivers that we talked to and the emergency room at Boston Medical Center receiving are TAFDC subject to the family cap,” said Allison Bovell-Ammon, the deputy director of policy strategy. “We know from our empirical data that it [the policy] harms the health of children and it jeopardizes family’s resources that are needed to pay for things like food, which are critical for children in this early period of life.”

Bovell-Ammon said the repeal will have a positive effect on the health and well-being on children across the state.

Looking to the future, Bovell-Ammon said there are more positive changes to TAFDC to be made. Children’s HealthWatch also supports the Act to Reduce Deep Poverty Among Kids, which would set a floor for TAFDC benefits increasing TAFDC benefits by 10 percent per year until grants reach 50 percent of the federal poverty level. This would increase resources families need to make ends meet and in turn reduce family financial instability and improve health outcomes for young children and their families.

The cap lift is retroactive to Jan. 1. The state has until Sept. 1 to fully implement the policy. The change will affect approximately 6,400 TAFDC households.