States rethink rules that cap welfare to children – sfchronicle.com drupal 8 database

BOSTON (AP) — Driven by rising welfare costs and the unproven notion that women on welfare were conceiving children for the purpose of increasing their monthly benefits, more than 20 U.S. states enacted policies in the 1990s that critics decried as harmful and punitive.

Often called family caps or caps on kids, the laws vary among states but essentially serve to deny additional benefits to children born to families already on welfare. In several of those states, the tide has turned against such rules, with Massachusetts poised to become the eighth to repeal its cap.

In Massachusetts, a mother with two kids who would otherwise be eligible for $578 in monthly cash benefits receives $478 per month if one child was born while she was on public assistance. That child would also be ineligible for a $300 annual clothing allowance provided by the state, though would remain eligible for food assistance and Medicaid.


For Rachel Mulroy, a single mother who was on and off welfare for several years while in what she called an abusive relationship, the cap meant skimping on things like bus fare and "making terrible decisions to try and save on diapers because they are so expensive."

Instead of taking the bus, the New Bedford woman recalls loading her daughters — then ages 1 and 3 — into a little red wagon and walking more than a mile back and forth to the nearest grocery store. Once, when it began to pour, a sympathetic police officer stopped and gave the family a lift.

The Senate budget would lift the cap Jan. 1 and authorize $5.5 million to cover the additional benefits over the last six months of Massachusetts’ fiscal year. The provision must be reconciled with language in the House budget that also repeals the rule, but not until July 1, 2019.

Eliminating the cap is a "bad idea" that fails to address welfare dependency, said Paul Craney, spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a conservative-leaning group that frequently targets Democratic lawmakers on spending and taxes. He called instead for stronger work requirements for welfare recipients.

California repealed the cap in 2016 in a move that at the time was estimated would cost the state $220 million annually. Caps were also lifted by Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wyoming, according to a tally from the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Full or partial caps remain in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, according to The Urban Institute’s welfare rules database.

Studies have been largely inconclusive as to whether family caps serve to discourage additional births or push recipients off welfare, as proponents suggest. A 2001 report from Congress’ General Accounting Office cited methodological limitations with previous academic studies and difficulties assessing out-of-wedlock births in the context of other social and economic changes.

In New Jersey, the first state to institute a family cap in 1992, proposals to abolish the rule in recent years twice met with vetoes from then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie. With Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy now in office, advocates for low-income residents are cautiously optimistic.

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