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New coalition seeks first increase in cash assistance program in 30 years

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Those 4,000 families who rely on this program receive an average of $6 per person per day,” said Senator Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield). “We know that being in poverty can negatively impact children’s ability to succeed in school and is harmful children’s health and future success. Increasing temporary cash assistance to needy families is one important strategy to help lift families, and especially children out of extreme poverty.”


A new coalition of community, healthcare, social service and advocacy organizations that serve low-income families, announced today that Senator Melissa Murray and Representative Michael Morin are submitting legislation to raise the benefit provided to families enrolled in the RI Works Program. The Coalition seeks to raise the benefit to 50 percent of the federal poverty level over the next two years – to lift families out of deep poverty. In the first year, the benefit for a family of 3 would rise from $554/month to $711, giving families more resources for clothing, toiletries, housing, transportation, food, and other basic needs.

The benefit has not been increased in close to 30 years, while all other New England states have adjusted their benefit to help families’ purchasing power keep up with inflation. Since 2013, a total of 22 states and the District of Columbia have increased the benefit amount. Families enrolled in the program receive an average of $6/person/day. The benefit is 31 percent of the federal poverty level, meaning that over 10,000 Rhode Islanders, including 7,200 children, are living in deep poverty (below 50 percent of the poverty level).

“We have short-changed these children and families for years,” said Linda Katz, Policy Director for the Economic Progress Institute. “Almost every representative and senator has families receiving RI Works benefits in his or her district. This year, we will work with our Coalition partners to ensure these families are front and center as the budget is developed and that a much over-due benefit increase is enacted.”

“Rhode Island Works programs helps hundreds of families throughout the state protect children and as well as helping parents gain skills for work readiness,” said Senator Melissa Murray (Democrat, District 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield). “Those 4,000 families who rely on this program receive an average of $6 per person per day. We know that being in poverty can negatively impact children’s ability to succeed in school and is harmful children’s health and future success. Increasing temporary cash assistance to needy families is one important strategy to help lift families, and especially children out of extreme poverty.”

“As a pediatrician, it pains me to see the impact of poverty on my patients. I can make sure that their medical needs are taken care of – but when families can’t afford adequate food or safe housing and must struggle every day to meet basic needs – I know that what I can provide is just not enough to ensure my young patients’ health,” said Doctor Pamela High, a member of the Executive Committee of the RI American Academy of Pediatrics. “The American Academy of Pediatrics at both the national and state levels is committed to eradicating poverty among children because we know the short-term negative health impacts, as well as the impact on our children’s future success. Personally and on behalf of the RI Chapter of the AAP, we strongly support this initiative to increase the benefits paid to RI Works families. This is a very small – but important – step our state can take to show that our children are our priority.”


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“My wages and the benefits I receive from RI Works are not enough to pay for my grandchildren’s clothes, shoes, gas for the car and to pay for a home that has enough bedrooms,” said Sandra Pates, a South County resident. “While my costs have gone up since I’ve been caring for my grandkids, the benefit I receive for them hasn’t changed. I love my grandchildren and have high hopes for their futures. A benefit increase would help me a lot – and it would tell me that lawmakers care about what happens to families like mine who are struggling in the shadows.”

“Survivors of domestic violence use this program as a lifeline to provide for themselves and their children, and $6 a day is just not enough,” said Tonya Harris, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence (RICADV). “We cannot continue setting up the people who need this funding most for financial hardship and deep, deep poverty. We must do better for these survivors.”

“One measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. Most Rhode Island Works recipients — almost 75 percent — are children,” said Representative Michael Morin (Democrat, District 49, Woonsocket). “The rate they are receiving is a rate that isn’t just below the poverty level, it’s well below the level that is considered ‘deep poverty.’ Children raised in deep poverty are entering life with the odds stacked against them, with very little hope for a healthy or successful future. We can and should be doing more for the poorest in our state.”

Linda Katz wraps it up.

[With assistance from press releases]



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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com