Franklin County resident-inspired bills ‘on track to pass,’ Comerford says

SEN.  COMERFORD

SEN. COMERFORD

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-03-2024 3:12 PM

Modified: 06-06-2024 1:29 PM


Two bills inspired by the stories and concerns of Franklin County residents are working their way through the Legislature and are “on track to pass,” according to Sen. Jo Comerford, who worked with her constituents to get the pieces of legislation filed.

Bills S.65, “An Act Protecting Benefits Owed to Foster Children,” and S.921, “An Act Protecting Equity for Homeowners Facing Foreclosure,” are both moving through the Legislature thanks to the advocacy of Franklin County residents. Bill S.921 has been rolled into H.4624, which combines several bills to create a comprehensive one designed to tackle municipal tax lien procedures and protections for property owners.

“This is a classic example of democracy working,” Comerford said. “Thanks to the great advocacy of constituents, thanks to their ideas, we’re making progress on two important issues.”

While “home equity theft” has been a hot topic in local, state and national news, the practice of Massachusetts intercepting monthly Social Security payments and other benefits paid to foster children whose parents have died or have become disabled has been more under-the-radar.

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the representative payee for these foster children and instead redirects the money to the state’s general treasury. The DCF stopped withholding this money — approximately $5.5 million annually — on Jan. 1, according to a Boston Globe report.

Comerford, who noted the DCF’s policy change was welcome news, said a social worker from Franklin County brought the topic to her attention and she is hopeful the advocacy brought forward by a local resident was one of the driving forces behind that change.

“The bill is like a big spotlight,” Comerford said, noting those in the governor’s administration and DCF don’t really know the “origin” of the practice, but it likely slipped under the radar for years.

“[These children] don’t have a net under them. … It’s not very much to the state, but it’s a world of opportunity for these young people,” Comerford added. “Just like the home equity theft, the consequences of keeping this policy are so unbelievably negative.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

As for the home equity bill, H.4624 got a huge boost recently, as the state Senate unanimously passed an amendment to its annual spending plan that prevents the practice of a municipality foreclosing on a property for delinquent tax payment and then selling it and keeping the excess profit. The U.S. Supreme Court also ruled last year that the practice was unconstitutional and Hampden County Superior Court Judge Michael Callan ruled on April 18 that the practice violated Article 10 of the Massachusetts Constitution’s Declaration of Rights.

Comerford called it an “egregious process” and noted states around the U.S. are “turning away from that practice.”

“It’s been ruled unconstitutional and it’s time for the Legislature to take action,” she said, adding that the passage of the bill would enshrine the statutes in state law.

H.4624 received a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Revenue and has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. S.65, the foster children’s benefit legislation, has a reporting deadline of May 31. Comerford said both bills are likely to be passed this legislative session.

   Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.