POOR FAMILIES AND older adults getting cash assistance from the state are likely to see a boost in their payments this January – a boon to struggling families from a program that has not increased payments in decades.
The budget deal that emerged from a conference committee Thursday and sailed through both branches on Thursday includes a 10 percent increase in welfare grants for the rest of the fiscal year.
Deborah Harris, senior staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, which has been lobbying for an increase, called it a major victory for those in need. “It is a dramatic and historic recognition by the Legislature and legislative leaders that cash assistance grants are far too low, that families, elders and people with disabilities suffer, and that this is contrary to the values of our Commonwealth,” she said.
Despite rising costs for everything from food to housing, state welfare grants have remained unchanged for decades. Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TANF) last increased the size of its grants in 2000, and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC), which primarily helps older and disabled adults, has not increased its grant size since 1988.
The budget bill will be voted on by the House and Senate Friday. If Gov. Charlie Baker signs the provision into law, beginning January 1, the maximum grant for a family of three on TANF would increase from $593 a month to $652. The maximum grant for a single person on EAEDC would increase from $303 to $333.
The budget allocates an additional $3.6 million in state money for EAEDC and $9.42 million for TAFDC to cover the increases.
A coalition of advocacy groups that work with low-income individuals had been campaigning for a bill, sponsored by Cambridge Democratic Rep. Marjorie Decker and Everett Democratic Sen. Sal DiDomenico, that would have raised the size of grants by 10 percent a year over five years until they reached half the federal poverty level – currently $905 a month for a family of three. The budget is silent on future increases, but advocates say they hope the new benefit level will be a floor for future years as they continue advocating for the rate to climb higher.
“This increase is an incredibly important first step and really historic because there has been no inflation adjustment to these grant amounts for a generation,” said Naomi Meyer, a senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services.
While the campaign to increase the grant size predated the pandemic, the extra money will be particularly important to families as they grapple with the fallout from COVID-19. Harris said she hears from families who are paying more for heat and internet access as children are home during the day, and who are paying more for private transportation to avoid taking public transit to grocery stores.
R.S., a 39-year-old mother of two in Braintree, who asked that her name not be used, has been on TAFDC since around 2017 when she got divorced. A Sudan native who has since become a US citizen, she is not working but has been learning English and taking classes at Quincy College that are required to enter the school’s nursing program.
With the pandemic, R.S. said the $593 a month she gets is not enough to buy the extra cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, school supplies, and food she needs to take care of her elementary school age children, who are in school in a hybrid model. If she gets another $59 a month, she said, “I’m going to use it for the most important things – to do the laundry and make sure everything is clean for them, buy for them hand sanitizer, masks…school supplies.”
According to the Department of Transitional Assistance, there were 28,950 families on TAFDC in October, covering more than 68,000 people, and 20,500 EAEDC cases, mostly individuals.