BOSTON – As part of a campaign aimed at lifting tens of thousands of children out of “deep poverty”, proponents of the fight against poverty are pushing for the expansion of social benefits.
A proposal supported by more than half of the 200 member state’s legislatures would increase social benefits through the state’s primary cash assistance program, known as Transitional Aid for Families with Dependent Children, by 20% each year until payments reach 50% of the total the federal poverty line.
That would bring benefits to $ 915 a month for the average family of three.
Last year lawmakers approved a plan to increase child aid for the first time in two decades, but proponents say more help is needed.
Senator Sal DiDomenico, D-Everett, the bill’s main sponsor, said the pandemic had made things worse for many families who have slipped into poverty.
“We know that they make difficult decisions today, choice of housing, medicine, food,” he told the members of the Legislative Committee on Children, Families and People with Disabilities on Wednesday. “We know our families are going through so many things that the pandemic only made worse.”
Supporters of the plan say it would pump an additional $ 70 million into the welfare system by 2023 and help more than 52,000 children in “deep poverty”.
Families living below 50% of the federal poverty line, which is currently $ 1,830 a month, are considered “deep poverty” according to proponents.
Under state law, a beneficiary is limited to two years in a five-year period. A family of three in the program now collects a maximum of $ 712 per month.
Naomi Meyer, a senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, said that doesn’t go far enough to help people on the sidelines.
“It is just not enough to survive and raise children in our expensive state,” she told the panel.
Sue Gabriel, general manager of Bootstraps Food Pantry in Beverly, said food insecurity “skyrocketed” during the pandemic and was showing no signs of subsiding as many people lose unemployment benefits and face housing problems.
“The need out there is still huge,” she said. “We are still seeing a lot of people and there is concern that it could increase.”
Gabriel said safety net programs put in place by state and federal governments during the pandemic helped feed families in need, but there is a need for more resources for communities that have not had access to public assistance.
Both federal and state governments have eased restrictions on social benefits as demand for food stamps and other forms of aid escalates.
Governor Charlie Baker’s administration diverted tens of millions of dollars in pandemic aid last year to support overstretched regional food banks.
Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, is one of the supporters of the benefit changes. He said the extra support is needed to support those struggling to escape poverty.
“The need is as great as ever right now,” said Tucker. “There are so many families living on the fringes and things have only gotten worse during the pandemic.”
Christian M. Wade runs the Massachusetts Statehouse for the North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]