More immigrants seeking public assistance | News

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BOSTON — Demand for public benefits from immigrants is rising amid a surge of new arrivals and the lingering impact of the pandemic, according to a new report.

The number of refugees and non-U.S. citizens seeking financial help from the state’s primary cash assistance program, known as Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, jumped by more than 60% between 2020 and 2021, according to the report from the state Department of Transitional Assistance.

The state provided welfare benefits to more than 3,000 non-citizen recipients last year, the report noted, compared to 1,819 in the preceding year.

The largest group of non-citizens to receive benefits last year was those with a legal permanent resident status, or 1,665, according to the report.

At least 309 asylum seekers received TAFDC benefits last year, the report noted, while 263 non-citizen parolees received assistance through the program.

To qualify for state welfare benefits immigrants must fall into one of 11 categories, including lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers and victims of sexual exploitation and physical abuse.

The state also allows specific refugee groups with protected status, such as Cuban and Haitians, to request assistance through the TAFDC program.

Elizabeth Sweet, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, hadn’t seen the report but noted that many refugees and asylum seekers arrive with limited resources to provide for themselves and their families.

“Refugees who arrive here require some initial support to make that transition, to learn our culture and become acclimated to our workforce,” she said. “And these kinds of services are a critical part of helping folks to become contributing parts of our economy and our communities.”

Overall, demand for public assistance has skyrocketed amid the economic fallout of the pandemic and more recently by the impact of record high inflation.

In March, 89,068 individuals were receiving TAFDC benefits compared to 73,801 in December 2019 — a more than 80% increase, according to state data.

Meanwhile, the caseload of the state’s Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children, another public assistance program, stood at about 26,657 in March. That’s a 30% increase over the same month in 2021, the data shows.

Despite the recent surge, the number of families on welfare has declined by half since the 1990s, to about 30,000 per month, according to state data.

The state spends about $16 million a month on the programs.

Under current law, a recipient is limited to receiving welfare for two years in a five-year period. A family of three in the program collects an average of $593 per month.

On Beacon Hill, anti-poverty advocates are making a push to expand welfare benefits as part of a campaign to lift tens of thousands of children out of deep poverty.

One proposal, backed by more than half of the 200-member state Legislature, would increase welfare benefits through the state’s primary cash assistance program by 20% every year until the payments reach 50% of the federal poverty level. That would raise benefits for an average family of three to $915 a month.

In 2020, lawmakers approved a plan increasing child welfare benefits for the first time in two decades, but advocates say more help is needed.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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