SPRINGFIELD, MASS., FEB. 16, 2016…..A Baker administration proposal that would cut off temporary funding for families in instances where they are already receiving disability benefits drew a sharp response from a Cambridge lawmaker Tuesday.
Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Jeff McCue said unlike veterans benefits and payments to people who have already paid into Social Security, supplemental security payments do not count as income for those seeking funding through the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
If the state accounted for the supplemental security income, that would disqualify about 6,900 families from the transitional aid and would reduce the transitional aid for another roughly 1,600, according to the department.
While McCue described the situation as an inequity at a budget hearing before lawmakers at Springfield Technical Community College, Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat who praised McCue’s work and reputation in general, decried the proposal.
“I’m really distressed over this possibility that we will cut 6,900 families off from cash assistance,” Decker told McCue. She said, “It just feels at best reckless” and said the anticipated $27 million in savings – much of which will be reinvested into programs – are “coming at the cost of those who have the least.”
Decker said only two other states have taken that path.
McCue told the News Service the change could be made administratively and it had been proposed twice by the Romney administration and once by the Patrick administration. Each time the proposal was made in conjunction with midyear spending cuts, McCue said.
Sen. Don Humason, a Westfield Republican, questioned why supplemental security income should be exempt while veterans benefits count against transitional assistance, and said he thought the current policy is “unfair.”
“It struck me as an obvious inequity,” McCue told the News Service, saying he was looking for money to fund other programs, such as subsidized childcare. He said, “This frees up dollars that I’m able to invest in that population that is right now existing on an average grant of $448.”
Decker said the loss of income would have a significant effect on families and McCue conceded that the reinvestments would not match dollar-for-dollar what would be taken away.
“It was just a bad move. To take away from people who already have so little, is never a good move,” Decker said.
While proposing to move people away from additional benefits, McCue said he has encouraged more people to gain access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, a food benefit, and has sought to “demystify access to DTA service.”
The average recipient of supplemental security gets about $748 per month while the average transitional assistance amounts to about $448 per month, according to McCue, who said people who lose out on transitional assistance through the new policy would receive additional nutritional assistance.
McCue said with additional food benefits the people receiving the two benefits could go from receiving benefits of about $1,200 to about $1,000. The commissioner pegged Oct. 1 as when the new policy would go into effect.
McCue said much of the $27 million in savings would be routed into additional beneficial programs.
The administration recommends funding the department about $18 million less in fiscal 2017 than in fiscal 2016, which McCue said is attributable to savings in the transitional assistance program and through a recent welfare reform law aimed at encouraging people to work. Excluding dollars reinvested in childcare and other programs, the total savings to the state in the welfare department’s budget is about $10 million.
Gov. Charlie Baker’s total recommended Department of Transitional Assistance budget is $672.2 million.
In his written testimony, McCue said the department is moving away from the “outdated state disability standard” to a federal standard, and is working on that with UMass Medical’s Disability Evaluation Services.
Copyright 2016 State House News Service