TAFDC for survivors of domestic violence

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Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

TAFDC gives monthly cash benefits to certain low-income pregnant people, children and their families. Learn more about TAFDC.

TAFDC has special rules that help survivors of domestic violence:

  • A rule that says you do not have to give information about your child's other parent if doing so could put you or your child in danger.
  • Rules that give extra help getting the proofs that you need to get TAFDC, while helping you stay safe.
  • Rules that excuse you from time limit, work rules and other rules if you or your child are suffering from the effects of domestic violence. 
I am afraid of the other parent of my child. Can I get TAFDC without going to court or helping DTA to find them to get child support?

Usually, to get TAFDC, you must give DTA information about the other parent of your child and help the state get child support from them. But this rule does not apply to people who have survived domestic violence.  

If you have any one of the following "good cause reasons for noncooperation with child support enforcement, " you do not have to give DTA the name of or any information about the other parent, or work with DTA to get child support:

  • The pregnancy was the result of rape or incest,
  • You are planning to give up your child for adoption, or
  • You or your child would suffer from "serious emotional or physical harm" by cooperating with these rules. For example, if you know who the father is and he was abusive or has threatened you.

Learn more about other good reasons not to cooperate with child support enforcement.

What are Domestic Violence Specialists?

The Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) has specially trained workers called "Domestic Violence Specialists." Domestic Violence Specialists are there to help you. They can help you apply for good cause and domestic violence waivers. They can also refer you to services outside of DTA. Find a DTA Domestic Violence specialist. 

Your DTA worker is supposed to refer you to a specialist if you tell them that you have experienced domestic violence. It is up to you if you want to talk to the specialist.

You can talk to the specialist at any time, even if you decide not to at first. You can call the specialist directly. Call the DTA Assistance line, 877-382-2363. Follow the prompts to reach a Domestic Violence Specialist. 

If your worker says that you must speak to a specialist and you do not want to, contact legal services for help or advice.

Can I get TAFDC if I cannot give DTA all the documents they want because of domestic violence?

Yes. If you left a relationship where there was domestic violence, you may not have all of your paperwork. It might not be safe for you to try to get it.

Usually, when you apply for TAFDC, DTA can ask for proof of certain facts to make sure that you qualify.

Your worker should help you figure out how to get the documents safely. Your worker also should help you get the documents if you are having trouble getting them on your own. For every fact that you need to prove, there are different ways to prove it. For some proofs, your worker should accept a written statement from you, called a “self-declaration,” if you can't get other types of documents.

Tell your DTA worker if you are having trouble getting the proofs that they have asked for. The law says that your worker must help you.

What if I can’t meet a TAFDC rule because of domestic violence?

If you cannot meet a TAFDC rule because of current or past domestic violence, you can ask for a "domestic violence waiver" of that rule. A "domestic violence waiver" will stop the rule from applying to you. 

People most commonly get waivers from:

  • The time limit rule,
  • The work rules, or
  • Teen school attendance rules.

You can ask for a waiver of other rules too, but you may need legal help to get it.

You can ask for a waiver at any time. When it runs out you can ask for another one.

You may be able to get a waiver of a TAFDC rule if you can show that if you had to follow the rule it would:

  • Put you or your child at risk of more domestic violence, 
  • Make it harder to escape from domestic violence, 
  • Make it harder to recover from domestic violence, or
  • Have a worse effect on you than it would on someone who has not lived with domestic violence.

Some examples:

  • You cannot meet the rule because you need to stay in hiding to be safe.
  • You cannot meet the rule because you need to go to court, medical, counseling or other appointments during work or school hours because of the domestic violence.
  • You have physical or emotional injuries from the violence and you need time to heal.
  • You are just not ready to be off TAFDC because it took you time to heal, or go to school, or get ready to work.

Learn more about waivers in the TAFDC advocacy guide. [inernal link]

How do I apply for a waiver due to domestic vioence?

You can apply for a waiver by:

  • Filling in the waiver form and
  • Gathering proof of domestic violence and your situation.

Proof can include:

  • a restraining order,
  • police reports,
  • medical records, or
  • a signed statement by someone who knows your situation.

You can ask to speak to a Domestic Violence Specialist and complete the form with them. Or you can bring it home. You do not have to fill out the form in the DTA office if you do not want to.  

You can also have someone else help you.

What if DTA denies my waiver request?

You can appeal. Learn more about appealing DTA decisions.

Can I apply for an exemption instead of a waiver?

Sometimes, instead of asking for a waiver, you can show you are exempt from a rule (this means you do not have to meet it). 

For example, if you cannot meet the work rules because you are caring for a disabled child, you might be able to get a "caretaker exemption." You can continue to get TAFDC without having to meet the 24 month time limit or work rules if you are exempt. Learn more about "exemptions" in question 36 of the TAFDC Advocacy Guide.

Exemptions are quicker to get than waivers. Exemptions also have less paperwork and do not require you to answer as many private questions. So if you qualify for both an exemption and a waiver, you probably will want to ask for an exemption.

I can't work because I have health problems caused by domestic violence. What's the difference between applying for a disability exemption and applying for a domestic violence waiver?

Many people who survive domestic violence may have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and/or other mental or physical effects of the abuse. These effects may last for a long time after the abuse ends. 

If physical or mental effects of domestic violence make it too hard for you to work, you can ask to be excused from the time limit and work rules. Right now, you can self-declare in writing or verbally with DTA if you can’t work or do a training program because of your disability or medical condition.

You have the right to a disability exemption if your mental or physical health problems are bad enough. There is a clear checklist that DTA must use to decide if you get the exemption. If you apply for a domestic violence waiver, DTA does not have a clear checklist. If DTA decides not to give you the waiver, it is harder to prove in a hearing that you should get it.

A disability exemption means that you do not need to meet the work rules and you do not have a 24 month time limit. With a domestic violence waiver, DTA might not agree to waive both rules.

If you are not working, your TAFDC will be a little bit higher if you get a disability exemption.

But, if you apply for a disability exemption, you may have to go to one or more doctor appointments. If you apply for a domestic violence waiver, you do not have to see a doctor.

If you get a disability exemption you can still care for your children and go to school or training. You can still work in the future. It just means that DTA can’t cut or stop your TAFDC if you can’t work or do a training program for enough hours. 

You may want to talk to an advocate or lawyer before you decide whether to apply for a disability exemption or a domestic violence waiver of the work rule or time limit. You can also talk to a domestic violence specialist at DTA. 

What if I cannot work because I need to take care of a disabled child or family member who has experienced domestic violence?

Children often have health effects from domestic violence. Sometimes this is because they were hit or abused. Sometimes it is because they heard or saw one parent abusing the other.

If you can't hold a full-time job because your child has health problems and needs your care, you can ask for a caretaker exemption. Your worker will give you a form for your child's doctor to fill out.

You can also get a caretaker exemption if you need to care for another relative in your home, like a parent or sister or brother.

What if I do not have a restraining order or police report?

Many people suffer domestic violence without getting help. For some people, getting a restraining order or calling the police is helpful. Other people find that calling the police or getting a restraining order puts them in more danger. Everyone’s situation is different.

DTA can ask you for proof of the abuse. DTA cannot ask for a specific kind of proof. DTA cannot make you get a restraining order or file a police report. If you do not have proof, DTA is supposed to try to help you get the proof you need. In most cases, you can give DTA a letter from someone who knows about the abuse.

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