BOSTON – After hours of meetings between House leaders and liberal members and debate between Democrats and Republicans that was contentious at times, the House passed a welfare reform bill Wednesday night.
The House bill will likely head to a conference committee with the Senate, which passed its welfare system changes in June. The House added key provisions backed by Boston Mayor Tom Menino and the liberal wing of the body along with several reporting requirements backed by Republicans.
Critics of the current system say Massachusetts lags other states in its work requirements for public assistance enrollees and the system needs stronger checks and balances to prevent benefit fraud and abuse. Lawmakers are also advancing new supports to move welfare recipients off the rolls and into jobs.
House Democratic leadership agreed to allow public and private education to apply to the welfare system’s work requirement, increase from 30 to 60 days the period when applicants must commence a job search, give more discretion to the Department of Transitional Assistance on medical waivers for the disabled, and add assistance in applying for Social Security - a requirement for those who receive a disability waiver.
The new version of the bill also relaxes a provision that past welfare recipients comply with a DTA plan while off benefits before seeking those benefits anew.
As the chamber stood at standstill for much of the afternoon and early evening, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey of Haverhill, spent hours talking to members of the progressive caucus in the House, before the bill passed 152-0, as several amendments from both parties were adopted by voice vote and many others were withdrawn.
“We must combine reforms with pathways to self-sufficiency,” said state Rep. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, who voted in favor of the bill. “Having co-sponsored several bills to reform our welfare system, I am glad to see these measures pass alongside key components meant to foster economic independence and success among struggling families in our communities.”