BOSTON – State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D – Pittsfield) announced today that the Senate approved legislation to reform the state’s welfare law on Tuesday, bringing it in line with 10-year-old federal requirements and helping Massachusetts families achieve self-sufficiency.
“This bill represents responsible welfare reform,” said Downing. “It protects the Commonwealth from losing federal dollars, toughens our laws by promoting accountability and responsibility, and maintains the support services essential for helping our citizens achieve self-sufficiency.”
Senate Leadership is optimistic about the outcome of the bill. “During the last 10 years, we have stood up for effective, meaningful changes and have paid close attention to the intricacies and sensitive nature of welfare reform,” said President Therese Murray. “We look forward to the Governor’s support of this bill.”
The new legislation, drafted by Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Framingham), who chairs the Senate Committee on Children & Families, would change work requirement definitions and help Massachusetts avoid the potential loss of more than $50 million in federal funding.
While the bill updates existing law governing eligibility, it would also codify benefit payments, income, and protections and sanctions against fraud.
After the Senate led a major overhaul of the state’s welfare law in the 1990’s, Massachusetts was credited as a pioneer in welfare reform. The landmark 1995 welfare reform set unprecedented work requirements and reduced the number of recipients by half. A year later, however, the federal government instituted its own reforms, and Massachusetts has been operating under a federal waiver ever since.
The Senate’s latest bill would responsibly and effectively meet the new standards required by the federal government while improving opportunities for recipients.
Additional highlights of the bill include the following:
- It defines work activities and those categories of individuals who are exempt from this requirement. It also establishes the process that must be undertaken by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) with an individual who is not fulfilling this requirement, including sanctions.
- The bill updates requirements for recipients to have their children attend school, resulting in sanctions if they exceed a certain number of unexcused absences.
- It also guarantees child care for those families who are participating in work or other activities if financial eligibility requirements are met.
- The bill establishes pilot programs to develop family well-being plans for those recipients who are exempt from the work requirement and help address services they may need as a result of disability or barriers to employment.
- The bill also significantly changes the definition of work requirement to all activities permitted as countable activities under federal law, giving DTA discretion to define further activities for the purposes of enabling people to overcome barriers to employment and to accommodate people with disabilities.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.