July 20, 2020
The Honorable Robert F. DeLeo The Honorable Karen Spilka
Speaker, House of Representatives President, Senate
The Honorable Aaron Michlewitz The Honorable Michael Rodrigues
Chair, House Ways and Means Committee Chair, Senate Ways and Means Committee
Dear Mr. Speaker, Madam President, Chair Michlewitz and Chair Rodrigues:
Thank you for the work you are doing to address the consequences of the public health pandemic in Massachusetts.
I am writing to urge you to enact the bills to Lift Kids Out of Deep Poverty (House 102, Senate 36), which would set a floor for cash assistance benefits at 50% of the federal poverty level.
DOVE (Domestic Violence Ended), Inc., is a comprehensive, multi-service provider based in Quincy, MA, and serving 17 cities and towns immediately south of Boston. DOVE specializes in domestic violence and teen dating violence survivor services and prevention programming. DOVE operates a 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter, and also provides a broad range of community-based services, including supportive counseling and advocacy, civilian advocacy in partnership with eight area police departments, legal services, community outreach and education, and teen dating violence prevention and awareness programs.
These bills are important to DOVE given the situations most survivors of domestic violence face. Many are trapped in homes with an abusive partner because of the financial barriers to leaving and the risks they face of plummeting into poverty without solid economic supports to enable their safe separation from an abuser. The majority of survivors we work with are indigent or at best financially vulnerable and making decisions for themselves and their children about their physical and emotional safety and well-being in a home with an abusive partner, vs. financial viability if they leave. Financial stress is also a key factor in survivors’ decisions to reunite with abusive partners. We must address these barriers that survivors face in pursuit of safety for themselves and their children.
Currently, DOVE is working with an indigent client who has a five (5) year-old child and an infant with her abusive partner. Despite experiencing years of physical and verbal abuse, our client continues to remain with her abuser because she is unable to afford to provide for her children and herself without her abuser’s added income. With the solid economic support that would exist if Lift Kids Out of Deep Poverty was enacted, our client would have the means to afford both rent and groceries to meet the needs of herself and her children. A yearly increase in the cash aid grants for this family of three, and others like her, would ensure that our client could continue to meet her family’s financial needs as inflation rises.
This indigent client is one of the many that DOVE serves, and will continue to serve, that faces financial vulnerability. These bills are necessary in assisting DOVE to empower and provide hope and healing to survivors looking for support and resources as they seek safety.
Currently, the maximum cash aid grant for a family of three is $593/month. This is less than one-third of the federal poverty level. The bills would raise grants by 10% each year until they reach Deep Poverty – half of the federal poverty level. Then grants would go up by a small amount each year to keep pace with inflation as the Deep Poverty level goes up.
TAFDC grants have lost half their value since 1988. Meanwhile, even before the current public health crisis, the cost of basic necessities like toilet paper, diapers and children's Tylenol had doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. For cash assistance family – who have no resources to fall back on – the stress of not being able to meet basic needs exacerbates the stress everyone is experiencing because of pandemic.
We understand that the Commonwealth is facing a revenue shortfall as well as increased costs because of the pandemic. The bills to Lift Kids Out of Deep Poverty would raise grants slowly to mitigate the budget impact. However, we should not wait any longer to begin addressing the painfully low grants that harm our children.
We urge you to take action during this session to put Massachusetts on a path to doing what is right for our lowest income families.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sue Chandler, MPH, MSW