State senator, Everett Democrat, vice chairman of the Senate
Committee on Ways and Means
In 1995, the Massachusetts Legislature took up the issue of welfare
reform and created a policy that is known as the Cap on Kids. This
policy denies welfare benefits to children who were born after their
family began receiving benefits. Over a decade later, Massachusetts’
family cap is still in place, and as a result, the Commonwealth does
not provide benefits to 9,000 children living in poverty.
In January, I introduced legislation in the Senate that would repeal
the family cap in the Commonwealth. Over the past several months, I
have heard personal accounts from many families who are hurt by this
policy. Because their benefits are so low, parents with “capped”
children struggle to meet their families’ basic needs. For instance,
they often can’t pay for enough diapers to keep their child clean,
dry, and healthy. And they are forced to make painful choices about
which necessities they can afford.
Under current Massachusetts statute, welfare benefits go up by about
$100 a month as family size increases. Currently, the basic grant
for a family of two with no income is $478 a month, $578 for a
family of three. However, if a family of three has a child excluded
by the cap, they receive only $478 a month, or 17 percent less that
they would otherwise receive.
To be clear, there is no evidence that welfare recipients have
additional children to get a small increase in their families’
grants. I have yet to meet a single person who would have a child
simply to get an extra $100 a month. In fact, families receiving
welfare benefits are on average the same size as all other families.
The family cap has not reduced childbearing by welfare recipients
since its implementation; it has only harmed children and caused
entire families to suffer.
We must take action this session and show that we value all children
equally, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. I believe
that thousands of children living in Massachusetts would benefit if
we repeal the Cap on Kids. Massachusetts is now only one of 17
states — including Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina – that
still have a cap. Seven states have already lifted their cap. It’s
time Massachusetts joins them.
Executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation; Marblehead
After Massachusetts passed a version of welfare reform in 1995,
President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work
Opportunity Reconciliation Act into federal law a year later, fulfilling his
1992 campaign promise to “end welfare as we have come to know it.”
The state law had in part created a cap on the number of children
entitled to government assistance, limited to those covered at the
time of enrollment. The “personal responsibility” part of the law
was rather simple: If you can’t afford to care for the children you
have, don’t have any more.
Now our Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and
Persons with Disabilities is considering a bill that would abolish
the state cap. A sponsor of the bill, state Representative Marjorie
Decker, a Cambridge Democrat, estimates that removing the cap on a
woman dependent on welfare benefits would cost up to $13 million in
added costs for the state each year. That estimate is based on
adding some 9,000 children to the “Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families” program who are currently excluded.
That’s presumably an estimate based on today’s data. Encouraging and
rewarding irresponsible decisions will only increase the number of
children and the cost. If a mother continues to have children she
acknowledges she can’t afford to support, who need taxpayer support
to survive, how can the program possibly be considered “temporary”
assistance? Too easily it becomes an entitled lifestyle, intentional
According to an Associated Press report, one advocate told a
legislative panel hearing testimony on this proposal that the state
treats the children who don’t fit under the cap as if they don’t
exist, resulting in parents being forced to make difficult choices
that affect the entire family.
Making less difficult choices before another indigent child is
conceived and presented for public support most easily solves this
problem. Both the family and our society as a whole would benefit
from such due consideration. That was an incentivizing intention of
welfare reform legislation, one of its goals and achievements that
some legislators are now attempting to reverse.
It’s an old economic axiom: If you want less of an activity, you tax
it. If you want more of an activity, you subsidize it.
As taxpayers and stakeholders, which do we want?