MASSACHUSETTS IS ONE of the richest states in the country, yet has a poverty rate higher than 24 other states, according to data released from the US Census Bureau. Over the past 13 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how poverty can have disparate effects on public health, making it clear that the fight against poverty is critical and will inevitably have a positive impact on other social problems.

The recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP) includes the most significant anti-poverty provisions in a generation. This $1.9 trillion package makes strides in the fight to end hunger and poverty. It normalizes cash payments to Americans below a certain income level and expands refundable tax credits like the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).The EITC expansion will benefit 5.8 million childless workers—a disproportionate number of whom are people of color—who are currently taxed into poverty, or held deeper in poverty through taxation. The ARP brings us one step closer to providing a robust guaranteed income. In fact, the CTC expansion alone is expected to cut child poverty in half. Additionally, the ARP supports measures to ensure affordable, accessible and equitable healthcare for people with low income or who are uninsured.

The Massachusetts Legislature needs to pass its own anti-poverty omnibus legislation, building upon the American Rescue Plan, lifting hundreds of thousands of families out of poverty, ending homelessness for thousands of individuals, and ensuring that no child goes to bed, or to school, hungry. We need to build upon the American Rescue Plan because our high cost of living in Massachusetts means that a dollar here does not go as far as a dollar in Arkansas.

I am very proud of the social welfare legislation passed last session, including lifting the cap on welfare payments for poor families, providing free breakfast to children in school, and dramatically expanding emergency food relief and food infrastructure grants. Now is the time to take even stronger action for working families.

We first need to ensure that everyone residing in the Commonwealth can attain a basic standard of living, especially those disproportionately impacted by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. To address this, I filed S.1852 An act providing a guaranteed minimum income to all Massachusetts families. This bill will create a guaranteed minimum income to ensure that everyone in the Commonwealth can attain a basic standard of living. This will be achieved by enhancing the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (so that it covers more households and delivers larger cash benefits.

It should not be a controversial statement that no child should go hungry. However, over 1 in 5 Massachusetts households with children are food insecure. In light of this, I am proud to support S.314/H.714 An act relative to universal school meals. Filed by Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett and Rep. Andres Vargas of Haverhill, this bill would provide free breakfast and lunch to all Massachusetts students. Though we currently provide some students with free or reduced price meals, far too many fall through the cracks – 27 percent of food insecure children are ineligible for federal nutrition programs. It is our responsibility to ensure that our students are fed, and S.314/H.714 is how we can do that.

Since the start of the pandemic, many government service programs have been launched to alleviate the damage caused by the economic crisis. However, many disadvantaged families still ran into obstacles that prevented them from accessing and fully benefiting from available social programs. To address this inequality issue, I filed An act removing barriers to lifting people out of poverty (S.102). This anti-poverty bill reforms multiple social service programs to provide more effective and equitable assistance to people and families throughout Massachusetts. Notably, this bill encourages families to develop modest savings by removing the asset limits for the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children cash assistance programs.

Massachusetts has been a leader in providing support for our most vulnerable populations, yet rising income inequality due to decades of disinvestment from the federal government, and a changing economy that leaves far too many people behind, requires a more robust response. With financial disparities among Massachusetts residents intensifying from the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021-2022 legislative session should build upon the temporary state support to create a more permanent and equitable social safety net.

Jamie Eldridge is the state senator from Acton.