The Massachusetts Senate voted 37-1 on Thursday to lift a cap on benefits for children born once a family is receiving welfare.
Sen. Don Humason, R-Westfield, was the lone dissenting vote.
Humason, who is running for Westfield mayor, said he has heard from constituents who are having trouble making ends meet but who do not qualify for public benefits. Some of them decide not to have more children because of cost.
“I hear from constituents who limited the number of children in their family because they can’t afford additional children,” Humason said, speaking from the Senate floor after the vote. “I think it’s unfair to ask the constituents back home to pay for a benefit for others that they don’t get themselves.”
“We’re asking people receiving state assistance to be responsible like those who are not,” Humason continued. “If they want to have children, they’re very welcome to have children, but don’t expect the rest of the taxpayers to foot that bill. It’s not fair.”
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 is no evidence that welfare recipients have additional children to get a small increase in their families’ grants. It’s only harmed children and caused entire families to suffer,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, who has led the Senate’s efforts to repeal the family cap.
For example, a family of three would get $578 a month based on family size — but only $478 if a child were excluded by the cap.
There are an estimated 8,700 Massachusetts children who were born to families receiving welfare payments, so their families’ benefits do not reflect their birth. Lawmakers want to lift the cap retroactive to Jan. 1.
The Legislature last session voted to lift the family cap, but Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, refused the sign the bill unless lawmakers approved a change he proposed to welfare eligibility. Baker wanted to count an adult’s Supplemental Security Income, a payment given to disabled adults, when determining if a family is eligible for welfare. Baker said this would bring the welfare program in line with similar programs like veterans’ benefits.
Baker’s proposal would make an estimated 5,200 children ineligible for welfare benefits and decrease the amount of benefits for another 2,100 children.
Lawmakers took the policy up too late last session to override Baker’s veto.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans introduced an amendment that would adopt Baker’s proposal. But it was voted down along party lines.
The House passed an almost identical bill, so after final procedural votes, it will go to Baker’s desk.
Baker has not said if he will sign it this time, or veto it again, which would likely result in a vote to override his veto. Both the House and the Senate passed the bill with veto-proof majorities.
“Today’s vote means we are one step closer to Lifting the Cap on Kids, making a difference and better supporting 8,700 vulnerable children in need,” said a statement from the Coalition to Lift the Cap on Kids, a group of advocates who have been pushing for the policy change. “We look forward to the Baker-Polito administration’s speedy implementation of this law to bring much needed relief to these children and families who have suffered for too long.”