Bill would give extra money to welfare recipients

The one-time payment would help the state’s poorest families

IN THE LAST couple of months, Elissa Bennett has lived in a Pittsfield homeless shelter, at her mother’s house, and most recently, in a hotel room with her fiancé and 2-year-old daughter.

The money to pay for the hotel room ran out April 10. She has health problems and is terrified of moving back to a shelter where she would have to share common living spaces.

“Shelters are not safe, not during COVID-19,” Bennett said.

Bennett was among those who testified at a virtual hearing on Monday begging lawmakers to pass a bill that would provide a one-time extra payment for welfare recipients to help them as they cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re talking about a population that’s not getting enough now of what they need, this same population is being quickly and disproportionately impacted by this really cruel virus,” said Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat who sponsored the bill.

The bill, which was also sponsored by Everett Democrat Sen. Sal DiDomenico and 78 co-sponsors, is being considered by the Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. It would provide an immediate one-time payment to everyone currently receiving cash assistance, equivalent to one month of their benefits.

It would cost the state $17 million in new Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or TAFDC, benefits, which help families with dependent children, and $6 million in Emergency Assistance to Elderly, Disabled and Children, or EAEDC, benefits, a program that primarily benefits the elderly and people with disabilities.

Today, around 30,000 families get TAFDC and 19,000 individuals get EAEDC. The maximum grant for TAFDC is $593 a month for a family of three, with the potential for a $40 housing subsidy. A single person on EAEDC can get up to $303.

While some of the recipients may also be eligible for a $1,200 payment from the federal coronavirus relief bill, some may not be eligible and some may take a long time to get the money if they do not have direct deposit set up through a bank.

Decker and DiDomenico said socioeconomic factors make low-income individuals more vulnerable to coronavirus. DiDomenico represents Chelsea, a poor city that has the state’s highest incidence of COVID-19. “They are making tough choices…and taking their lives into their hands by going to food banks, waiting in line on top of each other, getting in cars with four or five people to try to find food other communities,” DiDomenico said. “That is not fair.”

One by one, individuals told stories over videoconference of the financial hardships imposed by COVID-19. By and large, they had no money to stockpile food or hygiene supplies in advance, and they were seeing price hikes at the convenience stores near their homes. Several people said a lack of transportation hobbled their ability to get to food pantries or charities providing free diapers.

Sarah Jennison lives in subsidized housing in Wareham with her partner and 7-year-old daughter. She was struggling to stretch her budget even before the pandemic. “People with money buy things in bulk and leave nothing for people like me,” Jennison said.

She has not been able to find Lysol or hand sanitizer. She is cobbling together small remnants of old bars of soap to wash her hands. She doesn’t have a car or money for an Uber to get to the store or a food pantry. Even a one-time payment, she said, would help “to get little more food in the house or get toilet paper because everything is price gouged.”

Ruth Bodden, a single mom to 13-year-old twin girls, said her daughters used to only eat dinner at home, but with school closed, she now has to feed them all day. She uses more cleaning products and detergent to keep their clothes clean, and she had to get wi-fi and a computer so she could work and her girls could do schoolwork remotely.

An extra payment, Bodden said, would help her and other single mothers “alleviate the other expenses added to already hard budgets.”

Meet the Author

Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Thorin Grey, a homeless, disabled single parent from Pittsfield fleeing domestic violence, is living in a family shelter, unable to secure an apartment. Grey’s one-year-old daughter has been sick constantly as illnesses spread through the shelter. “If we want to distance ourselves, we have to stay shut in a tiny room day in and day out,” Grey said.