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Can you get a waiver of welfare rules because of domestic violence?

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Produced by Deborah Harris, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
Reviewed December 2017

Waiver due to domestic violence

If you (or your child) are a survivor of domestic violence, you may request a waiver of welfare requirements, including the time limit, the Work Program, teen parent, and child support requirements, and the one-year drug felon bar. You can also ask to have your Employment Development Plan (see What is an Employment Development Plan?) changed if you cannot comply with it because of domestic violence.

To get a requirement waived, you will need to show that the requirement will make it harder for you or your child to escape domestic violence or will penalize you or your child for past violence. You can verify your claim for a waiver on the basis of domestic violence with your own statement, plus court or medical records or the statement of at least one other person with knowledge of the circumstances. The statements will have to explain why the welfare rule should be waived. 106 C.M.R. § 203.110.

You can get a domestic violence waiver form from your worker or a DTA Domestic Violence Specialist. If you want, the Domestic Violence Specialist will help you fill out the domestic violence waiver request form and help you get counseling, legal and other services to deal with the violence or the effects of the violence.

DTA will not consider a request to waive the time limit until you reach your 22d month of time limited benefits, and can take a month or more to decide on your waiver request. This may be illegal. Check with an advocate if you need to know sooner so you can plan for the future.

Example 1

Katherine Farrell was living with her boyfriend who hit her if she would not have sex with him. She moved out with her 4-year-old child Sam and applied for TAFDC benefits. Sam was upset by the beatings and is misbehaving at home and in school. Ms. Farrell takes him to psychologist appointments, goes to frequent meetings at the school, and spends lots of extra time with him. She does not feel she can work or go to education or training right now. She requests a waiver of the time limit and the Work Program, explaining why she cannot meet Work Program requirements. Her child's psychologist writes a statement for her.

Example 2

Susan Moriarty’s husband Tom was controlling and physically abusive. He would not let her leave the house without him and would not let her go to school to get her HiSET certificate. She finally left with her daughter and began receiving TAFDC. Ms. Moriarty wants to get a HiSET certificate, but the HiSET program is only 10 hours a week, and DTA says she must participate in a work activity for 30 hours a week. She and her therapist think trying to go do another activity plus school will put too much stress on her. She can ask for a waiver of the Work Program hours requirement because making her comply would penalize her for past domestic violence. She can support her request with a statement from her therapist.

Good cause due to domestic violence

Instead of or in addition to asking for a domestic violence waiver, you can ask DTA to grant you “good cause” for not meeting a DTA rule, including the time limit, see Time Limit and Work Program Rules and Exceptions, the Work Program, see What is the Work Program?, and teen parent school attendance requirements, see What are the school attendance rules for teen parents?. DTA Online Guide (Good Cause Due to Domestic Violence).

Advocacy Reminders

  • When you ask for a domestic violence waiver, be sure to explain the connection between the violence and the reason you need a waiver. In the two examples, Ms. Farrell and Ms. Moriarty need more time to deal with the consequences of past violence.
  • Many domestic violence survivors have a disability such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or other physical or mental disability. If you have a disability, you may get better protection from the work requirement and the time limit by asking for a disability exemption, see Who is exempt from the time limit and Work Program?, in addition to or instead of a domestic violence waiver.
  • You can appeal a denial of a domestic violence waiver. See What are your rights if DTA will not give you benefits or reduces or stops your benefits?.

  • The welfare rule you are asking to be waived should not be applied while your waiver request is pending. See DTA Field Operations Memos 2007-35 (July 16, 2007) and 1997-49 (Sept. 1, 1997).

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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