Cap on State Assistance for Children Challenged

Members of the Ways and Means House Committee were met with dozens of advocates during a session on Friday, March 16, at the Massachusetts State House who were in favor of lifting the welfare cap on kids conceived after families start to receive benefits.

Current law denies assistance of up to $100 a month per additional child conceived while or soon after a family is placed on welfare.

Massachusetts is one of 17 states that cap benefits to families per child and has had this policy in place since 1995, according to Economic Mobility Pathways President and CEO Elisabeth Babcock.

Babcock testified in front of the Ways and Means Committee and argued that the repeal of the welfare cap on families could have a positive impact on reducing intergenerational poverty.

“Stress impacts our ability to be able to help ourselves go to school, help ourselves parent, help ourselves work,” Babcock said. “I have to encourage you to think about what seems like a very small amount and understand that small amounts like this do have proven impact on the stresses on families, and because of that proven impact on how children are develop and how they become as adults and the skills that they have in the ability to help themselves move out of poverty as the second generation.”   

Vincent Fusaro, assistant professor in the Boston College School of Social Work, was also critical of the welfare cap, which has denied benefits to about 9,000 children in state, according to data from the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

Fusaro also testified in front of the committee and spoke to unintended outcomes of the policy, which was mean to discourage low-income families from having more children.

“We see that the decline of cash assistance has increased the risk of food hardship and public school student homelessness in the most vulnerable households,” Fusaro said. “A family cap does nothing to alleviate the problems of poverty, and instead makes deep poverty even deeper … two decades of experience and a number of studies indicate that the family cap policies have no effect on childbearing … family cap policies do nothing to improve the situation of these households.”

Charles Homer, senior director of policy and evaluation at Boston Medical Center, also urged the committee to note the negative impacts that the cap was having on families.

Homer, a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, mostly talked about the impacts of food insecurity on children in families who don’t receive the $100 benefit.

“What I’m asking you to do is to lift the child cap because we have strong evidence that the cap harms children, harms their health, it harms their future and harms their parent in turn,” Homer said. “We know from data in Massachusetts that says these children are less ready when they get to kindergarten, they perform less well in school … this serves no useful purpose and lifting the cap would give these families more of a chance.”

Rep. Donald Berthiaume Jr. voiced his support for lifting the cap. The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Decker and Sen. Sal DiDomenico, who sits on the committee.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

Top