Garry is lone vote against lifting state welfare cap

Massachusetts State House. (Photo by Aaron Ye/BU News Service)

By Elise Takahama
BU News Service

BOSTON – As the Legislature approaches a final vote this week, it’s nearly united on a decision to override Gov. Charlie Baker’s veto of a bill that would eliminate a welfare benefits cap for the state’s neediest families and children.

The single vote against the bill in the House came from Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut.

“I felt it was important to stand by the governor,” said Garry, whose district also includes Tyngsborough. “There needs to be more reform made to the welfare proposal. Instead of just expanding it, we need to rein it in in some way. It’s not just finances that are important – it’s the culture.”

Parents need to be held accountable and take responsibility when they bring children into the world, she said. Instead of just expanding financial help, the state should be making smart reform decisions, Garry said.

The law was initially implemented to discourage low-income women from having more children, said Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, one of the leaders of the bill to lift the welfare cap.

The Legislature has voted to pass the bill five times now, Decker said, and Baker has vetoed it three times, saying that he wants a broader set of welfare reforms.

The “cap on kids” bill would eliminate a policy that restricts families from receiving additional financial assistance – $100 per child – if they’re already receiving benefits through the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.

The initial bill which supported granting more aid to needy Massachusetts families, gained overwhelming support, passing the House 155-1 and the Senate 37-1 – more than the required two-thirds support to override a veto.

Last week, Baker, again, vetoed the bill, writing in his veto letter that “eliminating this cap should be accompanied by other reforms to the welfare system designed to align the eligibility determination with federal standards and support recipients as they return to work.”

His proposal would require that federal adult Supplemental Security Income be counted in the eligibility calculation for welfare applicants.

Days later, however, the House voted to override his veto 153-1.

Garry, the single vote against, said she would also like to propose more reforms, instead of completely lifting the welfare cap.

“I think we should be taking all the income into consideration,” she said. “The (Supplemental Security Income) disability fund is not being counted with certain benefits.”

She also said she’d like to see more parents going through training in child care.

“Train moms.”

“I always had this idea to train moms and go through child care … Right now, you don’t have to work until the child goes to school,” she said. “But if you train these people as daycare providers, they can have their own children and take care of their own children.”

But other local representatives are standing firm in eliminating the welfare cap, including Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, who voted to override Baker’s veto.

“This is going to impact the 8,700 kids in Massachusetts that aren’t getting the resources they need for food and other benefits, and it’s not fair to put this on those kids,” Higgins said. “Most states have lifted the cap because it was a failed policy that was put back in the ’90s, and unfortunately, we’re a little late in the game.”

The state should be focusing on other issues, like family planning and comprehensive sex education, she said.

Decker said the governor’s actions were “baffling” and that she was looking forward to getting past this issue.

“I think it’s very clear that we’re collectively saying this policy is a failed policy,” Decker said. “It was intended to stop women who are low-income from having babies. The absurd and disrespectful idea that women just have babies to have a welfare check has been proven as untrue.”

Decker also noted that the bill calls for the policy change to be retroactive to January, and would give the state until September to implement it.

“I cannot recall a time that’s been retroactive. It sends a strong message to the governor: You are wrong. This is not the right direction … At this point, I continue to look forward and figure out how to strengthen our neediest families.”

The Senate is planning to vote on the override on Thursday.

This article was previously published in the Lowell Sun.

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