STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 18, 2016….Bills increasing the state’s earned income tax credit, establishing paid family and medical leave and limiting certain debt collection practices are among the measures lawmakers plan to push this session as part of what they describe as an effort to create paths out of poverty.
The bills — as well as others that would create a tuition recovery fund to reimburse students who paid money to for-profit schools that abruptly closed and that would allow families receiving public assistance to collect more of the child support paid by a noncustodial parent — were pitched by lawmakers and advocates Wednesday at a briefing hosted by Economic Mobility Pathways, an organization formerly known as the Crittenton Women’s Union.
“We’re looking at helping people,” said Sen. Cynthia Creem, a Newton Democrat who is sponsoring the child support legislation (SD 340) with Somerville Rep. Christine Barber. “We’re looking at trying to make a dent in the income divide.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 11.6 percent of people in Massachusetts were living below the poverty level in 2015. The rate has increased since 2010, when 10.5 percent of residents fell below the poverty level.
The five bills the organization counts as priorities for the 2017-2018 session all reintroduce proposals that failed last term. Legislators promoting the bills appear to have their work cut out for them in particular in the House, where some of the ideas died last session.
Their sponsors on Wednesday pointed to potential economic and social benefits of the policies as they urged support.
The debt collection legislation, a version of which passed the Senate last July, will be co-sponsored by Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton and Rep. Paul Brodeur of Melrose. It includes provisions that would prohibit debt collectors from pursuing court judgements on debts more than four years old and raise the income threshold after which wages can be garnished to repay debt.
In the final days of formal sessions last July, the Senate also passed a bill requiring employers to offer employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for family care and up to 26 weeks for temporary disability leave. Sen. Karen Spilka of Ashland and Rep. Ken Gordon of Bedford, who backed last term’s family and medical leave legislation, are re-filing it this year.
“It still blows me away that the United States does not have this,” Spilka said, adding that local companies could have a competitive edge over businesses in other states in attracting workers if Massachusetts became one of the first states in the Northeast to require paid family and medical leave.
The paid leave and earned income tax credit bills were also highlighted Tuesday as part of a “healthy workplace agenda” backed by labor unions and workers rights groups.
Rep. Marjorie Decker, a Cambridge Democrat who with Eldridge is filing a bill to increase the EITC, said Wednesday “some progress” was made last year on the issue, which has “great bipartisan support.”
Decker and Eldridge’s legislation would increase the state EITC to 50 percent of the value of the federal credit, from 23 percent.
Decker said the increase could boost 20,000 families up beyond the federal poverty income level, lead to better health outcomes for mothers and children, and give families more money to spend on housing.
The tax break for low-income families was increased from 15 percent of the federal credit to its current 23 percent in August 2015. A Senate proposal last year that was ultimately unsuccessful sought to raise the credit to 28 percent and funded the increase by restricting the credit to only families who are Massachusetts residents for the entire tax year and by expanding the state’s hotel and motel tax to short-term rentals offered through sites like Airbnb.
Copyright 2017 State House News Service