The Massachusetts TAFDC Program

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Produced by Deborah Harris, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2019

In Massachusetts, the agency that runs the family cash assistance program is called the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA). Massachusetts funds cash assistance primarily with state funds; most of the block grant pays for programs and services other than cash assistance.

In February 1995 the Massachusetts legislature enacted a “welfare reform” plan called Chapter 5. Chapter 5 renamed the state’s welfare program Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC). Chapter 5 also made sweeping changes to the program, imposing a two-year time limit on benefits and a work requirement for many recipients, a family cap, sanctions for not documenting immunization and for children not attending school, living arrangement requirements for teen parents, and other new restrictions. Massachusetts has also kept a number of rules and benefit restrictions that are no longer required by federal law, including asset limits and assistance unit rules.

DTA began implementing the state’s two-year time limit on December 1, 1996. Thousands of families have lost benefits because of the time limit and sanctions. Nearly 9,000 children are excluded from benefits because of the family cap.

Thousands of families have lost benefits because of the time limit and sanctions. Only one-third as many needy families receive cash assistance as before welfare reform. Before welfare reform, for every 100 families in poverty, 81 received cash assistance. Now, for every 100 families in poverty, only 38 receive cash assistance.

TAFDC benefits have lost half their value since 1988. The maximum TAFDC grant for a family of 3 is barely a third of the federal poverty level. These very low grant levels deprive our neediest and most vulnerable children of basic necessities, causing health and emotional damage, toxic stress, and impaired school performance.

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