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North edition
Saturday, June 24, 2017

Should Massachusetts lift the family cap on welfare benefits?


Sal DiDomenico
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.


Chip Ford
Executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation; Marblehead resident

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 or otherwise.

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?


NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to:

Citizens for Limited Taxation    PO Box 1147    Marblehead, MA 01945    508-915-3665