And here in Massachusetts, the state got in on the act earlier this year when it sent $500 checks to some of its poorest residents.

It was a commendable program. But now legislative leaders are citing those earlier payments as an excuse for excluding low-income families from the proposed new expense: a one-time $250 refund for taxpayers to help offset rising costs for gas and other utility products. consumption.

“We felt we had met a lot of needs there,” House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a Democrat from Quincy, told reporters Thursday, referring to the first round of checks. “The next step was to come up and take care of people who are in this middle-income area that is so often overlooked.”

Relieving middle-class taxpayers is a fine goal for a cash-swamped state government.

But excluding people with low incomes is a mistake, even if they have received previous government aid. In a place like Massachusetts, where the cost of living is so high, poverty can be particularly crushing.

As advocates have pointed out, there are better and more sustainable ways to help the poorest families, such as expanding the state working income tax credit.

But if the state is going to provide one-time payments on what is expected to be a historic surplus of nearly $3.6 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, then caring for the most vulnerable families should be a priority.

The legislative leaders’ proposal would send the aid to taxpayers who reported a minimum income of $38,000 in 2021, and no more than $100,000 for single filers or $150,000 for joint filers.

Dropping or drastically reducing the minimum would increase the cost of the package by around $500 million. But if lawmakers want to keep the price as it is, they could reduce eligibility at the top of the income scale.

A family earning $150,000 could certainly use the $500 that would go to a married couple. But these households are not as hard-pressed as the poorest families in the Commonwealth.

Including the lowest-income families would bring the state into line with the best national thinking about how to administer tax breaks.

When Congress temporarily extended the child tax credit in the worst of the pandemic, it made the credit fully refundable, meaning it could all be collected by the truly poor, even those earning no income. .

This is how you reach the single mother who lost her job. This is how we target the most vulnerable children.

Massachusetts moved closer to that approach with payments it issued earlier this year. And as the state prepares to distribute more of its surplus, there is no reason to change strategy now.

Editorials represent the opinions of the Editorial Board of The Boston Globe. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.