We are continuing to point the blame and say, ‘Well if people wanted to work, if people would just go to work…’ It’s not that simple.”
-Tammy Thompson, Catapult Greater Pittsburgh

EMPath and our partners had an important discussion recently on the cliff effect (also known as the benefits cliff). The term “cliff effect” refers to the sharp decline or loss of benefits that occurs when a family who receives public assistance (SNAP, cash assistance, child care subsidies, etc.) increases their income. Panelists discussed how the human services field can address the cliff effect through coaching and advocacy.

Moving forward out of poverty takes strategy. Yet the cliff effect is a huge barrier that stands in the way of families trying to climb the economic ladder. When families see an abrupt drop in public assistance as a result of an income increase, the dollar amount of that increase often doesn’t make up for the loss of assistance. Many families get stuck or even become poorer as a result, even as income from their employment increases. The cliff effect deters many families from seeking higher-paying jobs or accepting raises or promotions for fear they might lose much-needed assistance. It can send families spiraling – and possibly back into poverty.

Our panel featured policy experts, organizations who work directly with families, and researchers who have studied the impacts of the cliff effect. Brittany Birken of The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Anne Bureau of Worcester Community Connections Coalition, Susan Crandell of UMass Boston Center for Social Policy, Charla Hixson of Worcester Community Action Council, and Tammy Thompson of Catapult Greater Pittsburgh joined the discussion moderated by EMPath member relations associate Ginger Haggerty.

“Families need a coach that can work with them as long as they need. To tell their story to, to motivate and encourage [them], and to validate that the cliff effect is real, that it’s not something they’re doing wrong — that it’s a flaw in the system.”
-Charla Hixson, Worcester Community Action Council

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