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Public assistance programs provide low-income families, the elderly and the disabled with essential support and income stabilization, especially during difficult economic times. Throughout its history, MLRI’s Public Benefits unit has tackled systemic barriers to accessing benefits through litigation and policy advocacy and provides technical assistance and training to a legal and social service advocates that help low-income individuals and families access public benefit programs. Currently, the primary goal of our Benefits Unit is to preserve the programs that are most critical to the lowest income families and individuals in Massachusetts.  

Advocating for an Increase in Cash Assistance Benefits to Provide More Economic Stability to Low Income Families:

The maximum Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) cash assistance benefit for a family of 3 with no income is $618 a month—which is only 37% of the federal poverty level. Families receiving TAFDC live in extreme poverty, are unable to pay rent, and are at-risk of becoming homeless. MLRI is spearheading a campaign to increase TAFDC benefits by 15%, an increase that is long overdue. TAFDC grants were last raised in July 2000 and grants have lost nearly half their value to inflation over the last 25 years. Massachusetts gets $459.4 million a year from the federal welfare block grant, far more than it spends on TAFDC.  If successful, our campaign would impact 44,000 low income households with children (with approximately 10,000 new applicants per year) who would receive approximately $70 more per month in TAFDC benefits. 

Protecting Critical Cash Assistance Programs:  

MLRI leads statewide efforts to protect cash benefit programs from legislative proposals that are harmful to thousands of low income families, elders and people with disabilities.  In with our Welfare Coalition partners, MLRI has been aggressively advocating against restrictive cash assistance proposals in the State Legislature that, for example, would allow the Administration to eliminate the state standard for disability, subjecting 4,500 families headed by a disabled parent to a 24 month time limit and work requirements; would impose job search requirements on about 10,000 applicants a year; and would impose work requirements and time limits on about 1,500 pregnant women in their 3rd trimester.  MLRI will continue to lead efforts to defeat harmful proposals that would restrict cash assistance programs to thousands of low income families in the Commonwealth.

Maximizing Fairness in the Distribution of Child Care Subsidies:

MLRI (together with Greater Boston Legal Services) is the lead organization in Massachusetts working to achieve clarity and fairness in the distribution of child care subsidies.

MLRI worked with the Department of Early Education and Care to improve a proposed package of child care subsidy regulations. Among other things, the proposed regulations would have required parents to prove that they have sought and are continuing to seek child support from the noncustodial parent.  MLRI met with Early Education and Care Board members and staff, presented detailed testimony in opposition, and secured testimony from others, including a lawyer in Pennsylvania who described how similar rules (since repealed) in Pennsylvania led parents to give up their child care subsidies rather risk violence or jeopardize the delicate relationships they had negotiated with the noncustodial parent. The final regulations did not include the child support requirement and adopted a number of other MLRI recommendations.

MLRI also provides consultation and back up to advocates in Massachusetts who are helping parents negotiate the child care agency’s policies and procedures.

Promoting Asset Development for Low-Income Populations:

Asset development is increasingly recognized as a critical component in the effort to assist individuals and families as they seek to achieve long-term, sustainable economic security. MLRI, in collaboration with its advocacy partners, works to reform counterproductive state policies and procedures that discourage or penalize low-income individuals and families from building assets.