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Economic Progress Institute: RI Works works, but needs improvement



A new report released by the Economic Progress Institute yesterday asks the question: “Eleven years after the implementation of the RI Works Program, the state’s cash assistance program, how well is the program providing support to families so their children can thrive and so parents are on a pathway to jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage?” The report’s conclusion: “The program needs improvement.”

The report “Rhode Island Works: Is it Working” explores who receives RI Works, how much these families receive and for how long and how the program helps parents prepare for and find work. The report also explains how the federal block grant funding interacts with state funding. You can also download a 2-page infographic here.

The report documents that 4,100 families, including 7,200 children and 2,400 adults, receive RI Works benefits and live in almost every city and town in the state. In over one-third of the families, only children are receiving assistance and in the majority of those families, the parent is significantly disabled.

The monthly case benefit ($554 for a family of 3) is less than one-third of the federal poverty line. It has not been adjusted in close to 30 years and had it kept pace with inflation would be almost twice the current amount.

At the press event, Liz Hanke, a case worker from the Genesis Center, told the story of Elba, who has benefited from RI Works and is now employed. Two other stories of RI Work recipients are included in the report.

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Director Courtney Hawkins, of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services who administers the RI Works program, said, “These are our most vulnerable families …these are moms, victims of domestic violence and those who have been left behind by our education system.” Hawkins highlighted the Governor’s FY2020 budget proposal (Article 15) to repeal the 24 month interim time limit which is administratively cumbersome and doesn’t provide parents sufficient time to gain skills needed to find and keep a job.

Senator Senator Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, North Smithfield) and Representative Michael Morin (Democrat, District 49, Woonsocket), both from Woonsocket, which has the 2nd highest percentage of children enrolled in RI Works, are sponsoring legislation (S262/H5617) to improve the RI Works program by allowing parents to receive a second year of education at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) (Currently RI Works participant can only participate in one year of education while receiving RI Works benefits).

“The RI Works Program is the safety net program for children and families as well as an important work force development program for parents,” said Linda Katz, policy director for the Economic Progress Institute. “Yet the program is not well understood and over the years state and federal funding to support families has decreased dramatically. We wrote this report with the hope that it will spur action by the Department of Human Services and state policy makers to make program changes that will improve outcomes for children and families. The proposal in the Governor’s budget to repeal the 24 month periodic time limit is a step in the right direction, but there’s much more we can do to use resources wisely to support these families.”

[From a press release]

The Economic Progress Institute – formerly The Poverty Institute – is a nonpartisan research and policy organization dedicated to improving the economic well-being of low- and modest-income Rhode Islanders. The Economic Progress Institute advocates for policies that improve economic security and opportunity for Rhode Islanders.


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