Coalition to push for Khan's bill to help teens, low-income get careers
State House News Service / Newton TAB
January 10, 2013
Boston — Supporters of legislation aimed at enabling more Massachusetts families to achieve economic self-sufficiency say only six states have fewer public assistance participants enrolled in education and training programs.
Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton) on Thursday indicated a coalition, including organizations falling under the umbrella Workforce Solutions Group, will push for passage this session of the “career pathways” bill.
Bill supporters say pilot efforts linked to the state’s network of education and vocational programs will help more low-income and teen parents to gain skills they need to obtain higher paying jobs.
Under the bill, pilot programs would be administered by the Commonwealth Corporation under an agreement with the Department of Transitional Assistance, and at least 40 percent of participants would be recipients of benefits under the state’s Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) program.
The Workforce Solutions Group, which includes the Crittenton Women’s Union, the Mass. AFL-CIO and the Mass. Business Roundtable, says Massachusetts workers with only a high school diploma earn about half as much as individuals with a college degree, or $42,863 per year versus $80,611 per year.
The group estimates that 85 percent of TAFDC participants have a high school diploma or less, and says state investments in education and training for TAFDC participants have declined from $36.2 million in fiscal 2002 to $7.9 million currently. According to Workforce Solutions Group, Massachusetts directs only 1 percent of its state and federal welfare funding to “work-related activities” to TAFDC recipients, ranking it in the bottom quarter of states.
Khan told the News Service she hopes a $2 million investment during the upcoming budget process would get pilot programs started.
“I think there will be an interest during the budget process to try to put some of that money back,” she said, adding that she was encouraged by the turnout at a briefing on her bill Thursday.
About 122,000 adults and children received TAFDC assistance in May 2012, with benefits ranging from $300 to $500 a month for a total cost of about $325 million, according to the Workforce Solutions Group.
In addition to Khan, the bill’s supporters include Rep. Thomas Conroy of Wayland and Sens. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell and Ken Donnelly of Arlington.
Senate President Therese Murray last week identified welfare reform and closing loopholes as a priority issue in the new session. Murray said Massachusetts “became a leader in welfare reform” in 1995 by setting work or education requirements that helped cut the number of recipients in half.
“Those reforms were enacted with the goal of creating a system that gave people the help they need to exit a system that kept them in poverty and their children at risk,” Murray told the Senate last week. “It's time for us to revisit and identify loopholes that need to be closed to ensure that our system presents a clear path for our residents to reach economic independence and lead self-sufficient and successful lives.”
According to the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the TAFDC caseload in July 2008 was 45,347 and stood at 52,659 in December 2012. This session’s expected welfare reform debate is also expected to draw interest from lawmakers who are devising ways to ensure that cash benefits are not squandered on non-essential items or purchases.
TAFDC provides cash assistance to families with children and pregnant women in the last 120 days of pregnancy. To qualify, recipients have little or no assets or income. Participants receive child care and transportation support associated with job assistance and can access referrals to substance abuse and mental health services, and domestic violence specialists, according to the DTA.
Some TAFDC participants are required to perform a work-related activity to receive benefits. On its website, DTA emphasizes the importance of participants finding jobs while receiving benefits since recipients are limited to 24 months of assistance in any continuous 60-month period.
Khan said reform efforts, which may need to address transportation costs for welfare recipients looking to access education opportunities, appear timely given state government’s recent push to boost funding and improve operations at public community colleges.
Story originally appeared in the State House News Service pulished as 'Welfare Ranking, Funding Cuts Cited In Push for “Pathways” Bill'