BOSTON — Lawmakers are moving swiftly to override Gov. Charlie Baker's veto of a bill eliminating a cap on welfare benefits for children born into families that already receive public assistance.

The rule was intended to discourage people from having more children while on public assistance. Critics say the policy is outdated and hurts more than 8,500 low-income children across the state.

The Legislature approved a repeal of the policy but Baker sent the measure back to lawmakers last week with suggested changes —the second time he has rejected the proposal to lift the so-called "cap on kids."

Baker, who vetoed a similar proposal tucked into the $42 billion state budget last year, agreed to lift the cap if lawmakers passed other reforms, such as one that would count federal Supplemental Security Income in weighing a family’s eligibility for the state’s main welfare benefit program, Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

In his veto message, the Republican chief executive said the trade-off would "create a more equitable and streamlined approach to TAFDC benefits while establishing the right set of incentives."

But the governor's plea did little to sway House lawmakers, who approved a veto override Wednesday by a vote of 153-1 with support from Republicans.

The Democratic-led Senate is expected to take it up next week, and supporters say they have the two-thirds majority needed to override Baker’s veto.

"This policy has been a failure, and it has been punitive to the children who are the most in need in our communities," state Rep. Marjorie Decker, D-Cambridge, the bill's primary sponsor, told House lawmakers ahead of the override vote last week.

"It was rooted in a belief that poor women have children for the sole purpose of collecting a welfare check."

Advocates for the poor have been prodding the state for years to eliminate the cap, which they have criticized as a relic of failed welfare reform efforts of the 1990s.

They say the restrictions are discriminatory and force parents struggling to find work and housing to forgo basic necessities.

Baker's proposed changes would deny benefits to 5,200 children with a severely disabled parent, welfare advocates claim, and would defeat the purpose of lifting the welfare cap.

Naomi Meyer, a senior attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services, said advocates are "extremely disappointed" by Baker's insistence on making repeal of the welfare family cap "contingent on making cuts to other vulnerable children who need welfare."

"We shouldn't be trading off one group of poor children against another group of poor children who require basic support to meet their needs," she said.

Meyer and other advocates say the cost of lifting the cap — estimated at $12.6 million a year — would be offset by the decline in welfare recipients that has been occurring for decades.

The number of families in the state’s primary welfare program fluctuates slightly every year. Overall, the number has declined substantially since the 1990s to about 29,000 in March, according to state data.

The state spends about $16 million a month on the program.

The amount of help a family may receive is based upon its size. A mother of two can get up to $578 a month as well as a yearly clothing allowance of $300 per child, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance, which administers the program.

If a child is born while a family receives benefits — or within several years of receiving state assistance — the family gets $478 and no clothing allowance for the newest child.

Massachusetts is one of 16 states — including Arkansas and Mississippi — that cap welfare benefits for families which have additional children while on public assistance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At least seven states have repealed caps in recent years.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. 

Recommended for you