By Matt Murphy State House News Service
HOUSE REJECTS BAKER'S WELFARE REFORM PROPOSAL
BOSTON – The House rejected Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to tag additional welfare reforms onto a repeal of the state's cap on welfare benefits for children born to families already receiving public assistance, challenging the Republican in an election year to veto welfare for families with children.
The House and Senate, as part of this year's state budget, sent Baker a proposal to lift the so-called "cap on kids." While Baker said he does not oppose lifting the cap, he returned that section to the Legislature asking them to also approve changes to the way transitional aid to families with dependent children (TAFDC) is calculated.
"Eliminating the 'family cap' without other accompanying changes could have the perverse effect of reducing incentives for TAFDC recipients to get back to work, and cause existing inequities in the TAFDC program to persist and expand," Baker wrote in his amendment filing.
The House voted Monday afternoon 36-113 to reject Baker's amendment, with just two Democrats – Rep. Jim Dwyer of Woburn and Rep. Colleen Garry of Dracut – joining all 34 Republicans in supporting the governor.
Specifically, Baker proposed that adult Supplemental Security Income be counted toward eligibility for TADFC the same way veterans' or disability insurance benefits are counted as income in the calculation of benefits.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, the chairman of House Ways and Means, said the governor's amendment would cause 5,200 children to lose all TAFDC benefits and 2,100 more would see their benefits substantially reduced.
"The inclusion of this new language is counterproductive...," Sanchez said. "As a commonwealth we are compelled to help our most vulnerable families provide basic necessities for their children."
Sanchez said 9,000 children fall under the cap, limiting benefits to those families or single parents.
Cambridge Democrat Rep. Marjorie Decker, referencing Sanchez who is from Jamaica Plain, said the roughly 20-year-old policy of capping benefits for children born to families receiving welfare was targeted at "mothers like ours."
"This was never about saving money. This was always about punishing women of limited means," she said.
Though Baker could veto the proposal if the Senate votes like the House to send it back to him, Decker said the Legislature will try again in January at the start of the next session when they will have the power to override any veto.
"The only choice the governor has to make moving forward is will he delay the benefits that this Legislature has overwhelmingly said that poor children and their families deserve or will he begin those benefits Jan. 1," Decker said. "Pitting poor children with a disabled parent against poor children and finding ways to reduce the benefits of those who have the least among us is baffling at best and cruel at its worst."
The House also rejected the governor's amendment to a budget proposal that would increase the number of hours a retiree receiving a state pension can work for a government agency. The Legislature proposed increasing the threshold from 960 hours to 1,200 hours.
"I support providing municipalities with increased flexibility to make appropriate staffing decisions," Baker wrote in a letter returning the section with an amendment. "However, an increase of 240 more hours per year is a significant policy change and moves the Commonwealth and its municipalities closer to a place where employees continue to work near full-time while collecting a pension, without any corresponding changes to improve the current practice."
Baker proposed a more modest increase to 975 hours and a waiver for public safety personnel when a "critical shortage" exists.
Two other Baker budget amendments, including one dealing with the Cambridge district court and another related to grants from the Massachusetts Tourism Trust Fund, were accepted by the House.
The Senate must also vote on the governor's amendments.