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Even with a strong economy and low unemployment rates, many households in Washington struggle to meet basic needs. Fortunately, poverty reduction programs remove obstacles that make it harder for families to get and keep jobs and help them grow their incomes over time.
Our new policy brief, “Supporting Parents to Work,” shows how programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) support families to work. It also identifies certain situations in which families may face benefit “cliffs,” or a sudden loss of support that hurts their financial bottom line. State lawmakers need to take steps to strengthen some benefits so families can better take advantage of opportunities to increase their incomes.
The good news is it pays to work when participating in anti-poverty programs. Programs like SNAP, TANF, Apple Health and Affordable Care Act health insurance subsidies, and federal housing assistance are all designed to allow families to take advantage of wage and income growth (see chart below). That helps a family’s financial bottom line when they work more hours or get a raise or promotion.
However, families with children who receive child care subsidies through Working Connections Child Care (WCCC), do face a benefit cliff when their wages go up (see chart below). A benefit cliff is a sudden loss in benefits that results in a net loss in income. This can set families back substantially when they need to buy child care at market rates.
There are also some cases in which families may face a benefit cliff even when they do not see an increase in earnings. This can happen when families hit time limits or face sanctions in Washington’s TANF, or WorkFirst, program. This particular cliff is the result of a series of legislative and executive policies enacted over the past 12 years that cut off TANF benefits for the entire family when a parent failed to meet work requirements and that restricted time limit extensions. (For more information see our policy brief, “Reinvest in WorkFirst.”)
Every family should be able to meet their basic needs so that they can work, get ahead, and help their children reach their full potential. Washington lawmakers must take commonsense steps to strengthen poverty reduction programs. For WCCC, they should increase the period of time a family can participate in the “phase down” period from three months to 12 months. They should also increase program eligibility from 200 percent of the federal poverty line (or $3,462 for a family of three) up to 325 percent of poverty (or $5,625 for a family of three). For WorkFirst, lawmakers should provide extensions to program time limits for families who are “playing by the rules” and meeting program requirements, but aren’t making enough to be able to move off the program. They should also make it easier for families to comply with work requirements. Taking these kinds of steps will create better opportunities for all families to thrive.