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Massachusetts FY2024 budget makes key investments in children and families

On Aug 9, Governor Healey signed Massachusetts’ state budget for fiscal year (FY) 2024. The $56 million budget includes historic investments in several areas including early childhood education, child nutrition, cash assistance, and housing and rental programs. Investments in these programs will strengthen much needed supports for families and children and will improve health and well-being throughout the state. Throughout the year, Children’s HealthWatch, in coordination with partners across Massachusetts, advocated for the following policy achievements.  

Early childhood education 

The final budget signed by the governor invests $1.5 billion in early education and care, a $300 million increase from FY2023. This is a significant achievement for all of those impacted by the state’s childcare system from the early education workforce to the children and families they serve. The line items within this provision will contribute to quality improvements, increasing reimbursement rates for early education and care (EEC), reducing wait lists, increasing provider capacity, and providing scholarships and higher education opportunities to the EEC workforce among other provisions. Perhaps most notably, the budget includes $475 million to fully fund the highly effective Commonwealth Care for Children (C3) Stabilization grants. These grants, introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, are administered directly to childcare providers, and can be used to cover a wide range of operational costs including professional development, quality improvement, utilities and maintenance, or recruitment and retention of staff. The C3 grants have played a major role in stabilizing the state’s child care system. 

This investment is consistent with the large and growing body of research that shows the importance of high-quality accessible child care and early education programs. The impacts span from increasing the well-being of young children and their families to strengthening local workforces and economies and promoting gender equity. With the importance of child care becoming increasingly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is encouraging to see the legislature respond accordingly.  

Universal school meals 

With the passage of the FY2024 budget, Massachusetts becomes the eighth state to provide universal school meals to students across the state. The new policy follows COVID-era funding for universal school meals that expired in June 2022 and was temporarily expanded by the state through June 2023. With strong support from Massachusetts educators and advocates the program will now be permanent. 

Free school meals directly support the health and development of school-age children by delivering consistent access to nutritious foods. For those who participate, research shows that universal school meals are associated with a number of positive outcomes including improved academic performance, better attendance records for  students in families with low incomes, and reduced stigma. School meals also benefit entire families, including those with young children not yet in the school system, by offsetting often-constrained family food budgets. By saving money on up to 10 meals each week for their children during the school year, parents have additional resources to spend on food at home as well as on other expenses and basic needs that are essential for children to live healthy lives.  

Cash assistance grants 

The final budget also includes a 10% increase in cash assistance grants for recipients of both Temporary Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disables and Children (EAEDC). For a family of three receiving TAFDC, this means the maximum benefit level increases from $783 to $861. This increase moves Massachusetts closer to the goal of lifting kids out of deep poverty – above 50 percent of the federal poverty line – by setting a floor of cash assistance benefits. The budget also includes an increase in the allowance for clothing for families receiving TAFDC. 

Cash assistance programs provide much needed relief to families with low incomes, helping them to afford necessities. Research from Children’s HealthWatch shows that cash assistance supports food security and child and maternal health. While the FY2024 funding level for these grants is not enough to erase deep poverty, the incremental 10% increase in funding is crucial to improving the program’s efficacy. 

Housing and rental supports 

The newly signed budget also includes improvements to and increased investments in a number of housing and rental assistance programs, including the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP)  Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), and HomeBASE.  

It is well-documented that stable housing is critical for the health and development of young children and their families. Having access to an affordable, healthy, safe, and stable home has been associated with better health, academic outcomes, nutrition, and economic security later in life. With the national rise in housing and rental costs, and particularly high rental costs in Massachusetts, providing housing and rental supports is vital to supporting the well-being of children and families.  

VITA funding 

Matching funding from FY2023, the FY2024 budget allocates $1.5 million to support Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. These sites are a crucial resource to tax filers making less than $60,000 per year, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and those with limited English proficiency. VITA services bring in millions of dollars to taxpayers and local economies with a return on investment of 60 to 1 

Overall, VITA sites put $60 million dollars back into the pockets of Massachusetts taxpayers. By providing free tax preparation to families with low incomes, VITA sites help to fight poverty by helping families access key refundable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Research consistently demonstrates that these credits are vital to supporting family incomes, health, and financial stability. Families frequently use their EITC and CTC to purchase healthy foods, afford basic goods, make necessary home or car repairs, pay bills including rent and utility arrearages, and save for the future. Research from Children’s HealthWatch similarly found that the expanded federal CTC – which made the benefit fully refundable and available to families without earned income, consistent with Massachusetts’ current eligibility for dependent credits – helped families catch up on rent improved caregiver health.  

We thank the Massachusetts Legislature for its work on the FY2024 budget and applaud efforts to support the well-being of children and families in the Commonwealth. Now, we urge the Legislature to build on this investment in children and families by expanding family tax credits in the tax relief package currently under consideration.