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WMass.Legislators Push Welfare Reform

By Paul Tuthill


West Springfield, MA – Two state legislators from Western Massachusetts planned to file a bill today that calls for numerous changes in the state's welfare system. One advocate for the poor said some of their proposals are punitive. WAMC"s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports....

The bill, co-sponsored by State Senator Stephen Buoniconti and State Representative James Welch, both of West Springfield, takes aim at the controversial practice of sheltering homeless welfare recipients in motel rooms scattered across the state. The bill would ban the practice in a years's time, and regulate the accommodations in the interim. Senator Buoniconti said that as of the middle of last month there were more than 750 families living in motels.

Buoniconti and Welch say West Springfield motels are housing a disproportionate share of the families...close to 12 percent of the state wide total as of mid June. The legislators said it was inhuman to put families in motels with no regulations governing such things as access to kitchen facilities.

The state, earlier this year, terminated contracts it had with several homeless shelters to take in welfare families. The responsibility for sheltering these families was shifted from the Department of Transitional Assistance to the Department of Housing and Community Development as part of a larger strategy to address homelessness across the state. Buonconti said , in retrospect, the move was shortsighted.

The bill would restrict cash benefits, require non-English speaking welfare recipients to take an English as a second language class, and repeal exemptions that Buoniconti says have eroded the work requirements that were central to the last big welfare reform in the early 90s. Representative Welch says the current welfare system is a disservice to both recipients and taxpayers.

Michaelann Bewsee, a director of the Springfield based advocacy group Arise For Social Justice, says she plans to contact the legislators to discuss their ideas.

An official with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute said it appeared several of the provisions in the legislator's bill had been offered as amendments during debate on the state budget last month, and were rejected.