Right now there are about 8,700 children and families in Massachusetts—1,400 in Boston—who are suffering because of an outdated provision in state law based on myth rather than actuality.
That law—enacted during rampant negative stereotyping of families on government assistance in the mid-1990s—bars children born or conceived after a family starts receiving welfare from being counted for determining benefits. Cash assistance for the family will increase by about $100 per month for an additional child plus an annual clothing allowance, if a legislative campaign with a clever name succeeds this spring.
A coalition of more than 110 organizations, from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston to Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, is working to see the state budget “Lift the Cap on Kids” (also known as “the Family Cap”) this year. Removing the cap will require both House and Senate approval as part of the annual spring state budget process.
According to a fact sheet from the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, “Massachusetts is one of only 17 states that still has a cap on kids or similar policy. Seven states that had kids cap policies have repealed them.”
Despite strong support from members and the public for inclusion of all children in family benefits, the House Ways and Means Committee’s budget proposal released on April 11 did not contain a provision to Lift the Cap on Kids.
The leader of the effort in the House, Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge, then filed a budget amendment. The amendment quickly got 85 cosponsors (more than half of all House members), including local Rep. Liz Malia.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, also of JP, is chairman of the important House Ways and Means Committee as well as of the Joint [House and Senate] Committee on Ways and Means. (Neither he nor House Speaker Robert DeLeo can co-sponsor amendments.)
Malia is assistant vice chair of the same two Ways and Means Committees.
“Without these benefits, [the excluded children’s] parents struggle to secure diapers, clothing, food and other basic necessities for their infants,” Decker wrote in a letter signed by 80 other representatives, including Malia, addressed to DeLeo early this month.
“Older siblings of the excluded children also suffer, as parents try to stretch the small grant for the older child to provide for the younger one as well,” Decker wrote.
She noted that families receiving welfare are the same size as other Massachusetts families. “There is no evidence that the Family Cap reduces births to mothers on welfare,” she wrote.
Studies in New Jersey and Arkansas, reported by the Guttmacher Institute, four years after their caps on kids went into effect in the 1990s, showed that the policy denying an increase in cash assistance to families who had another child had no effect on the number of children born to families receiving benefits.
So much for the silly notion that someone receiving TAFDC (Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or “welfare”) would have another child just to get $100 a month.
Funding benefits for additional children certainly won’t break the state’s bank.
“Welfare benefits are very low,” a fact sheet from the Lift the Cap on Kids campaign says. And they are right: A family of three gets $578 a month, they report. But they only get $478 if one of them is a child excluded because of the cap.
Repealing the Cap on Kids has been projected by the current administration to cost taxpayers $13 million. The Lift the Cap on Kids campaign says that because of a drop in the number of families on welfare, projected spending for TAFDC benefits for Fiscal Year 2019 is $130 million less than Fiscal Year 2012. The $13 million needed to include all children in poor families benefits is only 10 percent of those savings, advocates pointed out.
For more information on the Lift the Cap on Kids campaign, go to bit.ly/2JiNQxa.
By the time this column comes out, the House will probably have voted on the amendment to the budget that would repeal the cap. To find out how it turned out, go to https://malegislature.gov/Budget/HouseDebate, Amendment 1361, Valuing Children Equally or call 617-722-2000.
The Senate will take up the cap on kids during its budget discussions in May. Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz has already come out in favor of lifting the cap, and many other senators are expected to agree. She is assistant vice chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and also of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means.
Both House and Senate have the responsibility to come to agreement on repealing the cap on kids, so it is important for advocates and the public to continue to speak to members of the House and Senate, especially the Senate, in coming weeks.
Why any legislator would take a hard line in favor of continuing to ignore new babies born into poor families is hard to imagine. The Massachusetts House and Senate have the opportunity to right this shameful and nonsensical injustice this session, and they should gladly take it.
Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.