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EPI report: Rhode Islanders are still struggling to meet basic needs



The Economic Progress Institute (EPI) publishes its Rhode Island Standard of Need (RISN) report twice a year to answer two important questions:

  1. What is the cost of meeting basic needs for families and individuals in Rhode Island?
  2. How do state and federal work and income  supports help households meet the cost of basic needs?

“The RISN calculates a household budget for families with two young children, and for single adults,” says the EPI in their report. “The no-frills budget includes the costs of housing, food, transportation, health care, child care and other necessities including clothing, toiletries and telephone service. The RISN also demonstrates how work supports like food assistance, tax credits, and child care and health care subsidies help close the gap between income and basic need expenses. By taking all of these factors into account, the RISN provides a more realistic measure of the economic security of Rhode Islanders than the federal poverty level.”

Key findings include:

  1. Raising a family in Rhode Island is expensive. It costs a single-parent family $55,115 and a two-parent family $60,300 to raise a toddler and a school-aged child in Rhode Island. A single adult has basic expenses of $21,842 annually.
  2. Many Rhode Island households do not earn enough to make ends meet. Two in three (67 percent) single-parent families with two or more children earn less than the $62,844 needed to meet their basic needs, while over one in four (28 percent) two-parent households with two or more children do not earn the $68,310 needed to pay basic expenses. More than two in five (43 percent) single adults earn less than the the $27,044 needed to meet basic needs.
  3. RISN calculations highlight the inadequacy of the Federal Poverty Level as a measure of economic security. The annual Census Bureau report documenting the number of Americans living in poverty under-counts the number of families struggling to make ends meet. Working families with young children need income more than two and a half times the federal poverty level to meet basic needs.
  4. Government funded work support programs help close the gap between income and expenses for many families with low wages. Child care subsidies, tax credits, and SNAP benefits help families make ends meet when wages are not enough. Subsidized health insurance through Medicaid and HealthSource RI provide coverage for Rhode Islanders who do not have coverage through their job.
  5. Without subsidies from the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), working families have a large gap between income and expenses for basic needs. A working parent with income slightly above the annual CCAP income limit ($37,404 for a family of 3) would need to pay $1,502/month for regulated care for her children. Even with SNAP, WIC and subsidized health care, the parent’s monthly budget would be over $1,000 in the red.
  6. Increasing the Rhode Island minimum wage would close the gap between earnings and RISN expenses, especially for single adults. At the current minimum wage ($10.10/hr.) a single adult earns over $6,000 less than needed to meet basic expenses.
  7. Rhode Islanders receiving cash assistance through RI Works or SSI have significant gaps between income and basic living expenses. Seniors and people with disabilities who receive SSI benefits have income (including SNAP) that is just below the federal poverty level. Families receiving RI Works cash assistance have income (including food assistance) that is 37 percent below the poverty level.

“All Rhode Islanders deserve the opportunity for economic stability,” said Rachel Flum, EPI executive director. “The RISN shows how work support programs, including child care assistance, subsidized health insurance and SNAP help working families close their budget gap when earnings are not enough. An adequate minimum wage and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are vital to boosting workers’ incomes. Rhode Island should continue to move forward with improving access to child care assistance and increasing the minimum wage and the state EITC.”

[Updated December 23, 2018: The original post contained an unfinished copy of the RISN report. That link has been updated.]

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.