fb-pixel Skip to main content
THE ARGUMENT

Should Massachusetts raise welfare benefits?

Read two views and vote in our online poll.

YES

Sal DiDomenico

State senator, Everett Democrat

Sal DiDomenico

Massachusetts cash assistance grants for families don’t pay enough to meet the basic needs of very low-income children. The maximum grant for a family of three with no income is only $712 a month. Since the federal poverty level for three is $1,919 a month, that grant isn’t even close to half of the poverty level –$960 a month – also known as Deep Poverty.

I filed legislation to raise cash assistance benefits by 20 percent annually until grants reach half of the poverty level. This would end Deep Poverty for most children in Massachusetts, a start towards doing the right thing for the lowest income kids in our state.

Advertisement



Why does this matter? Deep poverty hurts kids. They suffer when their families can’t reliably access healthy food. They can suffer chronic health conditions from living in unsafe housing. They experience the chaos of homelessness. These stresses can change a child’s brain, leading to long-term health problems, worse school outcomes, emotional and behavioral health challenges, and difficulty developing into productive adults.

I have heard people say these parents should just go to work. In fact, our welfare rules require parents to work or participate in education or training, with only limited exemptions, such as for parents who are disabled or sole caretakers of a very young or disabled child. Currently, parents who want to work often can’t get child care. Those who can work only get benefits for two years.

I am happy to say that the Massachusetts Legislature recently increased benefits twice — first in January 2021 and then in July 2021. These were the first increases in a generation and did not compensate for many years of frozen grants. According to the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, grants still buy only half as much as they did in 1988. The Institute also found that current inflation has already cut the net value of the July increase from 9.1 percent to .06 percent.

Advertisement



This is simple: children and families living in our high-cost state need more resources to survive and thrive. By passing this bill and increasing grants in the budget, we will relieve some of the stress that comes from living in poverty and give Massachusetts kids a better chance at success.

NO

Steve Feinstein

Foxborough resident; columnist at American Thinker, an online magazine; historian, business analyst

Steve Feinstein

Federal COVID-19 unemployment benefits have expired, as the pandemic eases and unemployment has fallen to nearly pre-pandemic levels.

The special circumstances of the pandemic prompted the US government to supplement its normal unemployment benefits with special COVID-related payments. No one questions the good intent or compassionate basis for this extra money since so many people were affected through no fault of their own.

As is usually the case during economic hard times, those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale seemed to suffer the most from the pandemic. Their jobs are the lowest-paying, least “important” positions in a company and are often eliminated first. When economic activity is reduced, local tax receipts can drop, so municipalities eliminate the funding of various community projects and charitable initiatives as they try to balance their budgets and meet payroll.

All of this puts a huge strain on families living on the edge of poverty, reflected in the sharp rise in requests for federal food and state public assistance programs after the special unemployment benefits expired.

Advertisement



Beacon Hill is currently considering legislation to counteract the phasing out of the extra federal benefits. The bill would cost $58 million next year for family assistance plus $23 million for seniors and people with disabilities.

While there is no question as to the compassionate intent of the bill, is this proposal the best use of state taxpayer funds to help the disadvantaged? Critics of this approach will point out that excessive government payouts invariably lead to uncontrolled waste, fraud, and abuse and many recipients can quickly learn how to “game” the system for unfair advantage.

A better approach, in my view, would be a temporary, short-term increase in cash benefits over current levels — perhaps on the order of 10 to 20 percent — to “stop the bleeding,” so to speak, from the sudden elimination of federal benefits. But longer term, the balance of that $81 million would be better utilized for expanded job training and education grants so that those on the lower end of the economic ladder can better their personal situations. That strategy would give those residents a realistic chance at permanent improvement and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. As the saying goes: “No one washes a rented car.” A hand up will help far more than a handout.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.

Advertisement