House Passes An Act to Foster Economic Independence
Promotes financial independence and strengthens anti-fraud measures
State Representative Josh Cutler joined his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives to pass comprehensive legislation that enhances the efficacy of the state’s welfare system through new initiatives and reforms.
The $20 million bill dedicates $11 million to create the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program which provides numerous resources including job training, education and employment-matching programs to help welfare recipients achieve financial independence. The program requires applicants to search for employment before they receive cash assistance, replacing current regulations in which recipients have 60 days to find a job, but allows for temporary benefits while awaiting placement.
“In this bill we provide a comprehensive set of tools that will help individuals who need it the most while simultaneously taking steps to improve the economic wellbeing of Massachusetts,” Speaker DeLeo said. “I believe that this bill, particularly the strong reform measures, sets our public assistance programs on a path for sustainable success that will serve the Commonwealth for years to come.”
“Over the past two years, the House has made targeted reforms to the Commonwealth’s welfare program,” said Representative Brian S. Dempsey (D – Haverhill), Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means. “With this bill, we continue that push, mindful of our continued emphasis on balancing reforms, investments, and new initiatives. Our ultimate goal, as always, is to help our residents get back to work as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
"This bill demonstrates the House’s commitment to addressing poverty throughout the Commonwealth and investing in programs aimed at transitioning our most vulnerable residents onto a path towards self-sufficiency," said Representative Tom Conroy (D-Wayland), Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
The bill appropriates increased funds for the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), including $3 million to hire additional caseworkers, the Department of Early Education & Care, and the Department of Career Services. In addition to educational programs included in the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program, the legislation provides an additional $1 million for the High Demand Scholarship program and requires the DTA to create a financial literacy program regarding the use of benefit cards, bank accounts and savings for higher education.
The legislation aids parents and families in numerous ways including:
- Allocates $5 million for childcare subsidies for low-income families;
- Makes individuals participating in the Pathways to Self-Sufficiency program eligible for childcare vouchers;
- Strengthens assistance for pregnant teens.
To help welfare recipients maintain economic stability while working towards independence, the bill includes an asset development program that allows individuals to save up to $5,000 for housing and education. These funds would not be counted against the existing $2,500 asset limit.
An Act to Foster Economic Independence builds on the House’s ongoing commitment to preventing welfare fraud and closing loopholes that incentivize individuals to remain on welfare through numerous provisions:
- Expands the scope of prohibited EBT transactions to include foreign transmittal agencies to prevent the use of EBT cards for international wire transfers;
- Requires the DTA to notify recipients who have not used benefits or have high balances, and subsequently requires the DTA to expunge or recoup funds;
- Codifies regulations mandating that SNAP benefits are for household use only as a means to prevent overseas food shipments;
- Requires the DTA to create a fraud detection program to analyze risk and refer cases to the Bureau of Program Integrity for investigation;
- Requires self-declarations to be signed under the penalties of perjury and prohibits self-declarations from being used as the only verification of eligibility;
- Allows state agencies to disclose tax forms for eligibility determination;
- Reduces the time period that results in a presumption of abandonment of Massachusetts residency.
The bill passed the House unanimously