South

THE ARGUMENT

Should Massachusetts lift the family cap on welfare benefits?

YES

Louis Kafka

State representative, Stoughton Democrat

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Louis Kafka.

In the mid-1990s, Massachusetts enacted legislation that denies benefits for a child born after the family first received state assistance. As a result of this “Cap on Kids,” Massachusetts does not provide any benefits for 9,000 children living in deep poverty. That means that there are 9,000 children in the Commonwealth whose families can’t afford enough to buy diapers, a warm winter coat, over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, and other basic necessities.

We owe it to these children and their families to put an end to this policy.

Children who are excluded by the Cap on Kids – and their older siblings – face increased risks of homelessness and other hardships associated with extreme poverty. They are more likely to be undernourished and to be hospitalized.

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This policy is not effective. No parent chooses to have a child to obtain the additional $100 per month these benefits provide. And the cap has not stopped families who are receiving benefits from having another child. It does, however, punish the children unfairly while pushing their families even further into poverty. As a state that cares about helping to move people out of poverty, this is not sustainable.

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State Senator Sal DiDomenico, of Everett, and state Representative Marjorie Decker, of Cambridge, have introduced legislation to remove the “Cap on Kids.” Personally, I cannot support maintaining an ineffective policy that hurts kids, let alone one that is also ineffective at its goals. That’s why I am a co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Of the other states that have implemented caps on kids, seven have since repealed their caps because they recognize that the policy has failed and is harmful to families in need. As a state that still has this cap, Massachusetts is in the same company as Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

The reality is that the decline in the Commonwealth’s welfare caseload -- and the savings that come with it -- provide us an opportunity to lift the Cap on Kids without spending more in the coming year than we are spending this year. This is about doing the right thing for children in need, and that is why this bill has my full support.

NO

Peter Boncek

Chairman, Kingston Republican Town Committee, 2016 candidate for state representative

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Peter Boncek.

We all know that times are tough and are going to get tougher. At our recent Town Meeting in Kingston, our state representative, Tom Calter, gave an update on what was going on at the State House. We were informed that MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, will be costing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts an additional $700 million in the next fiscal year.

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At our Town Meeting in Kingston, we approved a $46 million budget for fiscal 2018, which is up 5 percent over the current year. Nearly half the budget goes to the public schools. Just this year, average single-family tax bills were up $153. With taxes continuing to rise here and in other towns, now is not the time for the state to take the family cap off welfare benefits.

I know of senior citizens who have worked hard all their lives, paid their taxes, and retired, only to spend six months worth of their annual pension just to cover their real estate taxes. That leaves them just the other six months of their pension to pay for food, utilities, health insurance, car insurance, and much more.

I know that the biggest issue surrounding the proposal to take the cap off welfare benefits is about women having more children while on welfare. Under Massachusetts rules, a woman already on welfare who has an additional child will not receive additional monies for that child.

There are people who go on welfare who have children who grow up and themselves go on welfare, so it becomes a vicious cycle. I feel bad for the children, but the parents need to take responsibility for their actions and cannot expect the Commonwealth to take care of the problem they created. There are a lot of families in Massachusetts who are struggling to make ends meet who are not on welfare. Is the Commonwealth going to do something to help them?

It has been estimated that eliminating the cap would result in up to $13 million in added welfare costs for the state each year. When do we say enough is enough?

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.