Welfare Impact Advocacy


The Welfare Law Unit has long engaged in impact litigation to address systemic wrongs by the welfare agency, addressing issues such as immigrant eligibility, Food Stamp application rights, rights of individuals with limited English proficiency, and the TAFDC work requirement.  Some of this work is done in collaboration with colleagues in other legal services programs.


We are engaged in federal statewide class action litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Filed in 2007, the lawsuit (Harper v. Department of Transitional Assistance) has two prongs: first, it challenges many of the ways in which the state welfare agency administers subsistence benefits programs because these practices have the effect of depriving eligible individuals with disabilities and their families of the help the agency is obligated to provide; second, it challenges the welfare agency’s failure to have systems, policies and procedures in place to ensure the provision of reasonable accommodations to clients who need accommodations to access the welfare agency’s benefits and services.

State and Federal Policy Advocacy

The Welfare Law Unit advocates proactively for systemic improvements and defensively against proposed harmful changes on behalf of clients affected by the welfare system.  Our advocacy includes development and implementation of strategies with the following goals:

Enforce rights and improve access for clients with limited English proficiency (LEP)

The Unit engaged in extensive work on this issue with the welfare agency and, more recently, with other state agencies.  For example:

  • A Unit attorney worked closely with the Department of Revenue (DOR), which is responsible for Child Support Enforcement services, to develop its Language Access Plan.
  • Unit advocates regularly submit comments on proposed federal and state welfare and Food Stamp regulations and directives related to LEP issues.
  • Unit advocates brought a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) regarding violations of the rights of LEP clients by the welfare agency.  Unit advocates have pursued a number of further actions with OCR when the welfare agency violated the resulting agreement, including successfully seeking relief for clients where the violations resulted in lost benefits.

Enforce rights and improve access for eligible immigrantsto benefits and services provided by the welfare agency and the agency that administers subsidized child care for the state (EEC)

  For example:

  • A Unit attorney researched special eligibility rules for non-citizen survivors of domestic violence and drafted guidance, which the welfare agency incorporated into a formal policy memorandum for its staff.
  • A Unit attorney prepared a chart on immigrant status and child care eligibility for EEC, which EEC distributed to all agencies that administer child care benefits.
  • A Unit attorney organized a statewide conference on legal issues affecting immigrant children, sponsored by the Children’s Law Support Project. 
  • Unit advocates regularly submit comments on proposed federal and state welfare and Food Stamp regulations and directives related to immigrant eligibility issues.

Enforce protections for domestic violence survivors and those currently dealing with domestic violence.

For example:

  • Unit advocates worked on adoption of domestic violence waivers in connection with the implementation of welfare reform and advocated for the need for domestic violence specialists in the welfare agency.
  • A Unit attorney was a key organizer in statewide hearings held by the Governor’s Commission on Domestic Violence on the issue of domestic violence and economic stability.  She also co-authored a report synthesizing the results of the hearings and making policy recommendations.

Preserve access to the welfare safety net by trying to stop regulatory and other administrative changes that would harm our clients.

For example:

  • Unit advocates have responded to proposed harmful changes by submitting comments based on our extensive experience representing clients who would be impacted.

Legislative Advocacy

  • The Unit staffs the Family Economic Initiative in ongoing affirmative and defensive legislative efforts affecting clients in need of welfare, working closely with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations that recognize the Commonwealth’s obligation to preserve access to the welfare safety net.
  • The Unit successfully led post-welfare reform efforts to increase statutory protection of benefits for parents with barriers to employment, to include education and training as an allowable welfare work activity, to defeat attempts to enact legislation that would deny financial assistance to children with disabled parents, and preserve funding for basic benefits.