The safety net for the unemployed, underemployed and unemployable human beings in our Commonwealth is full of holes already, and Senate Leadership is proposing to make some more.
I am pasting in below links to two documents.
The first is an excellent readable analysis of the current proposal being debated today in the Senate from the Mass Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services. .
The second below is a list of amendments offered by key Senators hoping to knit some of those holes in the net closed.
Preliminary update on welfare reform in the Senate
Many amendments were passed after being redrafted and we do not yet have the text of all of the redrafts.
Here is an update on a few of the amendments we were working on. More information will follow.
Changing the disability standard for TAFDC to the SSI standard. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Sen. Spilka and her staff, the language was changed to allow the Commissioner the discretion to continue to apply the current standard.
Making applicants to do job search before they get benefits – or maybe even before they are allowed to apply. Again, thanks to Sen. Spilka, applicants who have good cause for not doing job search will not be required to do job search in order to get approved for benefits. “Good cause” will be determined by DTA. Currently, good cause includes not having childcare or transportation, doing housing search, illness, etc. Applicants who meet an exemption (such as having a child under 2) are not subject to the work requirement. Leadership refused to have an exception for applicants who are claiming an exemption (e.g, because of the applicant’s disability which has not yet been confirmed the Disability Evaluation Services) but that should be covered by the good cause provision. An amendment by Sens. Forry and Chang-Diaz provides that the applicant job search requirement can be met by proof of job search issued by a one-stop career center. However, the one-stops have refused to provide this type of proof and the amendment does not seem to require them to do so.
Job search for recipients. The original bill seemed to say that all non-exempt recipients had to do job search and show weekly proof. This could have meant that people meeting their work requirement through work or education and training would have to do job search in addition. Sen. Spilka got that changed so that only recipients who are meeting their work requirement through job search have to show weekly proof of job search. Her effort to get that changed to “monthly” was rejected. If the requirement of “weekly” proof is in the final bill, it will be important to get DTA to have reliable systems for reporting job search. Without such systems, the weekly reports will get lost resulting in penalties on recipients and new attacks on DTA for not keeping up with paperwork. The amendment by Sens. Forry and Chang-Diaz provides that recipient job search requirements may be met with proof from the one-stop, but the one-stops now are not providing that kind of proof.
Job diversion program. The bill creates a program that is supposed to match applicants for TAFDC with jobs so that they don’t need TAFDC. Sen. Spilka’s amendment clarified that applicants are not required to participate if they are exempt or if they have good cause (as determined by the department) for not participating. An amendment by Sens. Forry and Chang-Diaz clarified that benefits cannot be delayed because of participation in job diversion. An amendment by Sen. Barrett clarified that recipients who are working, in education or training, or certain other activities cannot be required to do job diversion. Unfortunately, the amendment does not protect recipients in shelter who are doing housing search.
Learnfare for public housing. The bill’s provision terminating housing subsidies if a child does not meet Learnfare requirements was deleted thanks to Sens. Spilka, Donnelly and others.
EBT photo ID. As amended, vulnerable populations are exempt from photo ID, and households can get the photo at the registry of motor vehicles which has more offices than DTA. The modification was adopted on an amendment by Sen. Creem. We will provide details of the provision when we get them.
Education and training beyond 12 months. Current law allows recipients to count education and training towards the work requirement for only 12 months. The Senate adopted Sen. Donoghue’s amendment (filed at the request of Crittenton Women’s Union) to allow DTA to approve additional time to complete a program.
Pregnancy exemption. Amendments by Sens. Eldridge and Clark to preserve the exemption from work requirements for pregnant women in the third trimester was not adopted. Legislators did not understand that pregnant women do not quit a job unless they have to and that it is a waste of resources to impose work requirements on pregnant women in the third trimester because they would not get hired.
Asset accounts and lump sums. The bill allows benefits and other client funds to be placed in an economic independence account which is not countable as an asset. Sen. Eldridge tried to get that changed to cover lump sums. This was rejected. However, leadership insisted that the intent was to allow lump sums to be placed in an account and thereby be made noncountable: if this is in the final bill we will work to get DTA to change its policies to reflect the intent. An amendment by Sen. Barrett clarified that the recipient can make withdrawals from the account for any allowable purpose, not just emergencies as in the original bill.
Limits on extensions. The bill limits extensions to 3 months. The Senate did not adopt Sen. Wolf’s amendment to clarify that this means 3 months at a time which leadership says was the intent.
Requiring recipients who received benefits for 24 months and then reapply to show good faith effort to meet “economic independence goals.” The Senate did not adopt Sen. Jehlen’s amendment to limit this to “non-exempt” recipients.
BAD AMENDMENTS. We will provide more details later on new restrictions on what benefits can be spent on and other new restrictions. MIRA has sent out details on restrictions on non-citizen eligibility for state public housing and other provisions specifically affecting non-citizens.
Next steps: The House and Senate welfare bills have to be reconciled before a single proposal from the Legislature can go to the Governor’s desk. The timetable may continue at an accelerated pace through the summer. We will have opportunities along the way to shape the proposal that reaches the Governor’s desk, so please stay prepared and poised for action.