In 2019 a group of community stakeholders came together and established the Benefits Project, including representation from not-for-profit and for-profit entities, state and federal elected officials, County and City government representatives, educational institutions, and local advocates. The goal of the project is to provide a centrally trusted resources for public assistance eligibility and benefit level estimation to empower individual, social service agencies and the system at large to move individuals from poverty to a living wage and ultimately economic sustainability.
While the resources below describe the general experience of balancing earned income and public benefits in meeting an individual’s life goals, the project is also intended to answer when, where and how often employees experience “benefit cliffs” as they lose more public benefits than they gain in increased wages and the effect this has on incentivizing employment and advancement opportunities.
Throughout the U.S., several states are addressing “benefits cliff” through programming, legislation and/or creating a benefits calculator to help identify when and why cliffs happen. For example, Boston, MA has tackled the issue for more than a decade and has come close to achieving The Zipline model.
The Benefits Project has two key components:
- Creating an online calculator that individuals can use on their own or with social service agencies (in real time).
- Conducting a PILOT with several social service agencies to understand how the tool impacts an individuals lived experience navigating the system, enhances financial planning around a change in employment/benefits, and captures effective strategies to avoid cliffs (what is needed to avoid cliffs).
The Project has numerous benefits, including:
- New York State County Department's of Health and Human Services (DHS) employees and their clients can get a full picture of available benefits, including those administered by other agencies.
- Policymakers will have a complete picture of the impact of policy changes on the entire social safety net, including service level and budget impacts.
- Employers will gain better insight into the lived experience of their employees so that they can take steps to adjust wage and benefit compensation in a way that decreases costly turnover and retains valued employees.
- Families will see how an employment change impacts their financial reality, in order to adjust their budgets, make alternative plans, and apply for benefits that they may be eligible for.
- Caseworkers will be able to pull up a real-time portrait of their client’s financial situation, to better facilitate a recovery and advancement plan that accurately reflects the financial road ahead.