'6th Time Was the Charm': Welfare Family Cap Lifted in Massachusetts
By Shira Schoenberg
After many votes and multiple vetoes, Massachusetts lawmakers have finally lifted the "cap on kids," which denies additional welfare benefits for children born while a family is already receiving welfare.
"Lifting the Cap on Kids will make a critical difference in the lives of 8,700 of the lowest income children in Massachusetts," said Deborah Harris of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in a statement. "With today's vote, Massachusetts has affirmed the dignity and humanity of every child."
The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday voted 37-3 to override Gov. Charlie Baker's veto and lift the cap. The House previously voted on April 10, by a 155-1 vote, to override Baker's veto.
The cap lift will become law retroactive to Jan. 1, 2019.
"Sixth time was the charm, but really this is a day when people came together from all around the state," said Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett.
The administration has until Sept. 1 to put the policy in place and make sure families are getting back payments as well as the additional money going forward.
A single mother with two children, one of whom was born while the family was on welfare, will see her monthly payment increase from $491 to $593.
"We are thrilled that our Commonwealth has repealed the cruel and unjust family cap," said Jacquelynne Bowman, executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services, in a statement. "This is an important step in helping Massachusetts act on the promise of supporting very low-income families to meet their children's basic needs."
Welfare benefits are based on family size. Many states instituted caps around the time of federal welfare reform in 1996 to discourage women on welfare from having more children.
Advocates for repealing the cap say women do not decide whether to have a child based on a $100 monthly addition to their welfare check, and the entire family suffers with less money.
There are an estimated 8,700 children in Massachusetts who were born to families receiving welfare payments, so their families' benefits do not reflect their birth.
Massachusetts had been one of 16 states to still have a family cap. It is now the ninth state to repeal one.
The Democratic-led Legislature voted to lift the cap as part of the state budget last year. But Baker, a Republican, would not sign the provision, instead returning it to the Legislature and asking them to make a change regarding what income would be counted in determining a family's eligibility for benefits. The Legislature declined to make the change -- which would have denied welfare benefits to an estimated 5,200 children with a disabled parent. But the session ended before they had time to override Baker's veto.
This year, lawmakers again voted for a bill to lift the cap and sent it back to Baker. Baker again vetoed the bill, asking for a broader set of welfare reforms.
This time, the Legislature had enough time to easily override his veto and enact the policy.
"This is a day that we can all say, we made a difference in people's lives," DiDomenico said, "and our children are going to benefit from this."
(c)2019 The Republican, Springfield, Mass.