As the Massachusetts House is set to begin debate today on a proposed $32 billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins in July, anti poverty activists are decrying proposals they claim will erode the social safety net. WAMC'S Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
The state budget proposed by the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee would cut benefits in the Aid To Families With Dependent Children program by eliminating a $40 monthly rent allowance and a $40 monthly transportation allowance. It would also cut in half a $150 annual children's clothing allowance, according to a collection of organizations that work with the poor.
Marian Hohn, a staff attorney with Community Legal Aid says the proposals could harm very poor families
Hohn, and other activists, who gathered recently in front of the Springfield office of the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance described some of the proposals as punitive.
There are currently 52 thousand families in Massachusetts receiving benefits under the Aid To Families with Dependent Children program, but from 45 thousand before the recession. The average grant is $500 a month and benefits have increased by only 10 percent since 1988. Activists say eliminating the rental allowance could push more families into homelessness, and doing away with the transportation allowance will make it harder to find and keep a job.
Cutting the clothing allowance to $75 a year will have an impact on how children do in school, according to Wendy Kane, a para-legal with Community Legal Aid.
Marianne Winters, executive director of Safe Passage, a shelter for battered women, says the proposed cuts are likely to force more women to remain in abusive relationships and potentially dangerous circumstances.
The activists also rapped proposed restrictions on the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT cards. These are a debit card that contain funds allocated under the state's welfare program, as well as benefits under the federal Supplimental Nutritional Assistance Program, what used to be known as food stamps.
Budget amendments have been filed in the House that would prevent people from obtaining cash with the EBT cards, according to Community Legal Aid para-legal Wendy Kane.
Recent arrests of several store owners in Massachusetts for allegedly taking EBT cards in exchange for cash has led to allegations of widespread fraud. The State Auditor, Suzanne Bump, is conducting an investigation into the EBT card program.
Michaelann Bewsee of Arise for Social Justice, urged people to call on their state legislators to make amendments to the proposed state budget to help poor families
If the budget cuts are not restored in the House, the activist can try again with the State Senate, which will take up its version the states's fiscal 2013 spending plan next month.