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Developments on Beacon Hill

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Our faith calls us to protect public safety, promote the common good, and restore community.

Debbie
Rambo

We here at Catholic Charities work hand-in-hand with some of our most impoverished neighbors. Doing so often leads us to keep an eye on important legislation and its impact on the people we serve.

One issue that has long been at the forefront of our minds is criminal justice reform. Recently, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law some important reforms to the state's criminal justice system. The new laws signify Massachusetts' foray into a national movement to ease many of the draconian "tough-on-crime" policies introduced in the 1980s and '90s. These policies disproportionately targeted the poor, and people of color. The new laws passed by our state legislators and now instituted by Gov. Baker are a major step in the right direction. They are aimed at reducing the number of people caught in our overcrowded court system, helping those who have served their time stay out of jail, and giving young people who run afoul of the law more leeway to avoid the penal system altogether.

These wide-reaching reforms have been several years in the making, have been endorsed by our bishops through the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, and receive our wholehearted support. We are guided by the Catholic teaching on crime and punishment: We will not tolerate the crime and violence that threatens the lives and dignity of our sisters and brothers, and more importantly, we will not give up on those who have lost their way. Our faith calls us to protect public safety, promote the common good, and restore community.

We provide necessary aid to so many in Massachusetts and see the same story from clients all too often; people who have been released from prison, many having found themselves behind bars as children, find that because of their past, they cannot find work, and become desperate. These circumstances are frequently dire enough to force them to resort to their past bad behavior.

Among other things, this bill gives those who have served their time a clearer path to rejoining productive society. By strengthening laws that seal records and expunge old convictions, this legislation makes it much easier for criminals who have repaid their debt to society to find employment. And by showing more leniency to minor offenders, this law will keep many from being stuck on the treadmill of repeat incarceration, release, and re-incarceration.

Another piece of legislation that has captured our attention is the Cap on Kids -- also called the Family Cap -- which denies TAFDC (welfare) benefits to children conceived while the family received welfare assistance. Thousands of Massachusetts children are currently harmed by this outdated policy that many other states have done away with. The Cap on Kids causes everyone in the family to suffer -- including the excluded child's older siblings. Contrary to its original intent, the cap does not reduce births to mothers on welfare.

Despite having "sign-on" support from 67 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the House Ways and Means Committee's budget proposal for the 2019 Fiscal Year does not include a provision to lift the Cap on Kids. Rep. Marjorie Decker has filed an amendment to the proposed budget that would remove the Cap on Kids.

We work extensively with working poor parents, people who are employed, yet still struggling to make ends meet while raising their children. We hope that you will join us and the over 120 other local nonprofit organizations, who have already made their support for this amendment public.

You can make your voices heard by calling your state representative and asking them to support Amendment #1361 to H4400, Valuing Children Equally. Our children deserve nothing less.

To learn more about our work go to ccab.org.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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