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Lifting the cap on kids should be the beginning of a movement

Building a safety net that promotes upward economic mobility

The Massachusetts Legislature recently voted to lift the cap on kids, a major piece of Mayor Walsh’s Legislative Agenda, led by bill sponsors State Representative Marjorie Decker and State Senator Sal DiDomenico. We thank the House and Senate for passing it, as well as the coalitions that led the effort to make this a reality.

Simply put, lifting the cap provides vital resources for Boston’s most vulnerable families. It repeals a policy that denies resources for children conceived while, or soon after, a family receives benefits.

It will provide a clearer path to economic stability for thousands of residents.

It should also mark the beginning of a broader set of policy changes that build a social safety net rooted in dignity and support upward economic mobility and wealth-building.

Lifting the Cap on Kids was one of several Economic Mobility bills on the Mayor’s Legislative Agenda that would represent significant progress towards that goal. Here, we will highlight three that focus on core elements of the social safety net:

  • An Act to Lift the Cap on Kids
  • An Act to Promote Asset Building for Low-Income Residents
  • An Act to Help Working Families
Taking the Lead

As changes to federal policy have made it more difficult for families to get ahead, Massachusetts has the opportunity to take the lead in building a system that provides solid pathways to economic security and the middle class.

This opportunity is especially important to us at the Economic Mobility Lab.  

We’re a team of social entrepreneurs in Mayor Walsh’s Office of Policy that researches and tests promising ideas that can move the needle on economic mobility. The Lab focuses on implementing programs at the City level--from work on child care, to children’s savings accounts, to emergency savings. We know, however, that the city operates in a broader policy context. We see it as our responsibility to advocate and build momentum for policy changes at all levels of government and in the private sector.

We believe that the blueprint for building a better system starts by centering action on the perspectives of the people who will actually be affected by the policies. Then, it requires an assessment of existing policies and taking actions that:

  1. Eliminate policies and rules that create barriers for families trying to get on their feet
  2. Expand successful policies that provide a financial boost for families  

The following bills, key parts of the Mayor’s Legislative Agenda, both eliminate some of what holds families back and expand what works for families with low incomes. We look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to pass them as essential first steps towards creating a more equitable and resilient City and Commonwealth.

Lifting Barriers to Opportunity

As part of our initial research for the Lab, including in-depth interviews with residents, we identified the welfare system as a crucial starting point for improvement. That’s why we led with Lifting the Cap on Kids. The process of working towards a better system begins by rooting out policies that harm children and families.

Rooting out those policies has a ripple effect for families and across the economy. Lifting the Cap, for example, supports families in several ways, including providing resources to caregivers. Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, has one of the highest average child care costs in the country.

For families, lack of access to child care means that parents may have to turn down a job offer or the chance to accept a higher paying job. Any policies that make it easier for families to access high quality, affordable child care should be a major focus moving forward.

For these reasons, one of the Lab’s focus areas, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Women’s Advancement, is child care. We are moving forward with projects that will support providers operate child care businesses.

An important next step is S.38, An Act to Promote Asset Building for Low-income Residents, sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico, which would eliminate the cap on assets for families receiving temporary cash assistance. The current cap acts as a disincentive for low-income families to even think about saving if they believe they may need to access cash assistance.

Working with the Legislature, Massachusetts recently raised the asset cap from $2500 to $5000. While this is a positive start, we must continue to make progress. Lifting the asset limit will simplify the application process for the state and eliminate the bad incentive this creates and the message it gives to families that they are not allowed to build assets.

Providing a Boost for Working Families

Lifting barriers to economic mobility is crucial, but is not sufficient for creating a system that creates pathways to the middle class. We also need to expand what works.

When the parents who were receiving cash benefits move off of them, we want to ensure they have the resources they need to achieve economic security.  That’s why Mayor Walsh supports H.2434/S.1646 An Act Improving the Earned Income Credit for Working Families, filed by Representative Marjorie Decker and Senator James Eldridge, which would raise the Massachusetts Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to 50% of the federal credit, returning money directly to low- and moderate-income families. The EITC provides tax relief to more than 400,000 working individuals and families across the Commonwealth annually.

The EITC is widely considered one of the most effective anti-poverty measures for working families. An increase of the state EITC would offer a significant economic boost for low-income workers. The Mayor’s proposal would increase the federal EITC return to more than $420 million for Massachusetts households, up from $126 million in 2014.

The City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are in unique positions to lead on creating policies that support upward economic mobility and asset building. Lifting the Cap on Kids is a great start. Passing the other bills on the Mayor’s legislative agenda would build on this progress in creating a system that works better for families.

To learn more, visit the Mayor’s legislative agenda page and the Economic Mobility Lab.

  • Economic Mobility Lab

    This post was written by the team at the Mayor's Economic Mobility Lab. You can learn more about the lab online:

    Economic Mobility Lab information

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