Let’s Not Punish Success: A Six Month Benefits Window for Opportunity Is Needed

By Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Therese Daly, Crystal Griffith | April 2, 2024

In New York State, public assistance benefits cliffs impact workers and employers alike.  A worker will lose all of their public benefits if they earn one dollar over income limits-all while not being able to have a savings account. At the same time, employers are denied the full skills and capacity of an employee who is held back by income restrictions.

Currently, there are over 472,000 open roles, in the state, that businesses, the workforce, and our economy would benefit from if filled. Unfortunately, the fear of losing public benefits has no incentive for individuals to join the workforce, for individuals in the workforce to participate in upskilling opportunities and is keeping individuals, families, and communities from achieving economic mobility. This especially impacts women who left the workforce during the pandemic to be able to alleviate the cost of child care. In fact, the most severe effects of the benefits cliff are seen in housing and child care.

In 2021, Senator Persaud and the New York Association of Training and Employment Professionals (NYATEP) began working together on a bill that would mitigate benefits cliffs by exempting income earned from certain job training or adult education programs from the determination of need for public assistance programs, for a period of six months. With the support of the Senate and other workforce, social service, and business organizations, the bill has moved through the Senate.

The FY 2023-24 Enacted State Budget included a one-time income disregard for individuals whose income doesn’t exceed the 200% federal poverty level (FPL) and completing an approved employment program can retain full public assistance benefits for six months for purposes of mitigating a “benefits cliff.” While we appreciate the Governor including an Income Disregard, we would like the law to increase the 200% of Federal Poverty Level income threshold. While every individual and family’s budget is different due to a number of factors, 200% of Federal Poverty for an individual hovers right around the state minimum wage if working full-time

We would also like to see a bi-partisan task force set up to conduct a study on fiscal cliffs in the state’s public assistance programs and to make recommendations. In the final days of the 2023 Legislative Session, Senator Persaud and Assemblywoman Davila’s bi-partisan legislation regarding the establishment of a Fiscal Cliff Task Force to conduct a study on fiscal cliffs in the state’s public assistance programs passed unanimously but was ultimately vetoed. The legislation would have created a 20-member Fiscal Cliff Task Force, comprised of pertinent state agency commissioners and experts selected by both Majority and Minority leadership of the Senate and Assembly.

The Fiscal Cliff Task Force bill may have been vetoed, but the momentum to enact such a task force is only growing.  New York State agencies must clearly identify “cliffs’ ‘ in a wide range of public assistance benefits and other fiscal policies intended to lift up New Yorkers.  We will continue to formulate policy proposals that transform benefits cliffs into gradual off-ramps that encourage New Yorkers to achieve self-sufficiency instead of punishing them for trying to do better for themselves and their families.

We are asking The Legislature and the Governor to include the following items in the final FY2024-25 Enacted budget:

  • The establishment of a task force to study fiscal benefit cliffs in New York state’s Public Assistance program and make recommendations to reduce and eliminate such fiscal cliffs and the $500,000 in funding to cover expenses associated with the study
  • Increase the income threshold to 400 % from 200 % of the Federal Poverty Level for the one-time, six-month earned income disregard for public assistance recipients who enter a job after completing an employment training program.

Senator Roxanne J. Persaud represents the 19th Senate District and, since 2019, has served as Chair of the NYS Senate Social Services Committee.  Therese Daly is the Interim Executive Director of the New York Association of Training & Employment Professionals (NYATEP), whose members include New York’s 33 local workforce development boards, community college systems, literacy providers, local governments, labor unions, economic development agencies, and career and technical education providers. Crystal Griffith is the Director of Workforce Development at The Business Council of NYS, Inc., the NYS Chamber of Commerce and the largest business advocacy organization in the state.