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Domestic Violence and Welfare

Produced by Greater Boston Legal Services
Created April, 2008

What is domestic violence?

When a person abuses his or her girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse, it is called domestic violence. The abuse does not have to be physically violent to be domestic violence. Some types of domestic violence are:

  • physical abuse, such as hitting, pushing, shoving, slapping, or kicking;
  • sexual abuse such as forcing unwanted sex or touching;
  • threats, name calling, yelling;
  • one partner keeping money away from the other;
  • one partner trying to control who the other partner sees or what the other partner does.

Two-thirds of mothers who get TAFDC have lived with domestic violence. The effects of domestic violence can last for a long time, even after a person is no longer with their abuser. Domestic violence is the reason that many people lose their jobs, can't work, or lose their homes.

I have lived with domestic violence. Are there special TAFDC rules that can help me?

Yes.TAFDC has special rules that help survivors of domestic violence:

  • rules that provide extra help getting the proofs that you need to get TAFDC, while helping you stay safe
  • 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 exceptions and waivers from the family cap rule
  • rules that allow you to be excused from time limit and work requirement rules if you or your child are suffering from the effects of domestic violence

The rest of this article explains these rules.

Can I get welfare if I can't give the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) all the documents they want?

Yes.

DTA can ask for proof of certain facts to make sure that you qualify for welfare. But if you left a relationship where there was domestic violence, you may not have all of your paperwork, and it might not be safe for you to try to get it.

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 he or she has asked for. The law says that your worker must help you.

Do I have to give DTA information about the father of my child and let DTA go after him for child support?

 

There is a rule saying that you have to give the state information about the father of your child and help the state get child support from him if you want to get TAFDC. But this rule does not apply to people who have survived domestic violence.

You do not have to give DTA the information about the father of your child, or help DTA get child support from him, if you are worried that your or your child would not be safe.

Example

If you are afraid that going after child support will mean that the father will threaten or harm you or your children, you do not have to give DTA information about him. Or, you may want the state to help you get child support, but you may be afraid of going to court while the father is there.

If this is the case, tell your worker that you have "good cause for noncooperation with child support enforcement." Your worker should give you a form to fill out.

If you ask for "good cause," your worker will ask you for some proof of the domestic violence. The following documents count as proof for "good cause":

  • a copy of a restraining order, or
  • a medical or police report, or
  • a letter from a social service agency, or
  • a letter from someone else who knows about the domestic violence, like a family member or friend.

One of my children does not get any TAFDC benefits because of the "family cap" rule. What can I do to change this?

The "family cap rule" says you can not get TAFDC benefits for a child who is born more than ten months after you first start getting TAFDC.

But the family cap rule does not always apply. There are "exceptions" and "waivers." If you qualify for either, the family cap rule will stop applying to your child.

You should be able to get an exception to the family cap rule if:

  • You got pregnant from rape or sexual assault, including rape or assault by your spouse or boyfriend. or
  • You got pregnant because you were afraid of the father and did not feel like you could say no to sex with him, even if he did not physically force you to have sex with him. or
  • you were afraid of the father of your child and he kept you from using birth control.

If one of these situations applies to you, tell your worker that you "qualify for an exception to the family cap rule." Also, there are other exceptions to the family cap rule that are not related to domestic violence. If you have other reasons for asking for an exception to the family cap rule, call your local legal services program.

A "domestic violence waiver" of the family cap rule will also make the rule stop applying to your child. You may be able to get a domestic violence waiver of the family cap rule if:

  • you were afraid of the father of your child and he kept you from getting an abortion; or
  • the family cap rule makes it harder for you to keep yourself and your children safe; or
  • the family cap rule makes it harder for you to recover from domestic violence.

If any of the above apply to you, tell your worker that you want to apply for a domestic violence waiver of the family cap rule. Exceptions are quicker to get than waivers. Exceptions also have less paperwork and do not require you to answer as many private questions. So if you qualify for both an exception and a waiver, you probably will want to ask for an exception. If you get a family cap exception or domestic violence waiver of the family cap rule, the child should be added to the TAFDC grant (unless there is some other reason that the child does not qualify for benefits). If your child is added to your TAFDC grant, your benefits will increase by about $100 each month. Also, depending on the age of the child, your welfare time clock may stop and you may not have to meet the work requirement.

What if I have health problems that make it hard for me to work?

Many people who survive domestic violence 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 requirement. You can do this by telling your worker that you want to request a "disability exemption." Your worker will give you a form called a "Disability Supplement." You will need to write on the form why your health problems make it too hard to work right now.

It is best to write all of your physical and mental health problems on the form. It is also best to write all of your symptoms, including things like trouble sleeping, recent weight gain or loss, trouble concentrating, trouble getting up in the morning or going out, or feeling anxious or very stressed.

If you need help filling out the Disability Supplement, you have the right to get help. Your worker must help you. Also, some welfare offices have disability specialists who can help you. If you prefer, you can take the form home and ask someone else to help you. You can call your local legal services program for help.

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 force you to work while you have the exemption.

What if I can't work because I need to take care of a disabled child or family member?

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 current or past domestic violence makes it hard for me to follow a welfare rule?

You can ask for a "domestic violence waiver" of the rule. A "domestic violence waiver" means that a TAFDC rule does not apply to you because you have survived domestic violence. If you get a waiver of the rule, the rule will stop applying to you, either for a set amount of time or permanently.

You can ask for a domestic violence waiver of a TAFDC rule if:

  • it is hard for you to follow the rule, because of current or past domestic violence; or
  • following the rule makes it difficult for you or your family to escape or recover from the abuse; or
  • applying the rule to you would be unfair, because of the domestic violence.

DTA allows domestic violence waivers of the time limit, the work rules, the family cap rule, and the teen parent school attendance rules. You can ask for a waiver of other rules too, but you may need legal help to get it. Call your local legal services program to see if you qualify for free legal help.

If you ask for a waiver, you will need to fill out an application form. DTA will ask you for proof of the domestic violence and proof of why you need the waiver. There are different ways to prove the domestic violence and your need for the waiver. One way is to have a friend or family member, or a social worker, write a letter about it.

What if I don't have a restraining order or police report?

Many people suffer domestic violence without being able to get 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 else who knows about the abuse.

What are Domestic Violence Specialists?

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, and can refer you to services outside of DTA.

Your DTA worker is supposed to refer you to a specialist if you tell him or her that you have experienced domestic violence. It is up to you whether or not 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 welfare office and ask to speak to the domestic violence specialist. Each domestic violence specialist covers several offices, so call ahead if you want to talk with a specialist.

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

Can I get legal help?

Because these rules are complicated, you may want to get legal help or advice. Local legal services offices work with survivors of domestic violence and have experience helping families with all of these welfare rules. Call your local legal services program to see if you qualify for free legal help.

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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