Florida Lawmakers Discuss Effects of Benefit Cliffs on Low Income Families

by Andrew Powell


The Florida House Subcommittee on Children, Families and Seniors met in Tallahassee Wednesday and discussed the phenomena of benefit cliffs with several programs and how they can provide a disincentive for work.

The subcommittee was given a presentation on the barriers that are present for Florida families, with the main focus being benefit cliffs — which refers to the sudden and often unexpected decrease in public benefits due to a small increase in earnings.

The presentation was made by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability Chief Legislative Analyst for Health and Human Services Cate Stoltzfus.

OPPAGA was asked to gather information about Florida’s public assistance programs, who is using them and the barriers that prevent Floridians from being self-sufficient economically.

Stoltzfus gave an overview of the goals of each program and the impact that it has on those who have access to them including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Cash Assistance, Medicaid and School Readiness.

The various programs have different eligibility requirements, time limits and income limits.

SNAP is available to any family who earns a maximum of 200% of the Federal Poverty Line, while Medicaid eligibility depends on age and life circumstance and a 185% income maximum, and TCA is available to households who have a dependent and income the threshold depends on the household type.

Any household with children under the age of 14 are eligible for School Readiness, which includes vaccines needed to register at a Florida school district.

According to Stoltzfus, the majority of those using SNAP, TCA, and Medicaid programs were children by 59%, with 65% of adult beneficiaries being females.

Since 2017, Medicaid access has grown from 2,761,151 participants to 3,134,574 participants in 2021. TCA participants dropped from 69,069 to 65,496 participants in the same time period.

Participation in Medicaid and SNAP programs had been gradually decreasing from 2017 up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, which caused a sharp rise in participants, with SNAP having the largest participation amongst adults.

Stoltzfus went over the various identified barriers preventing economic self-sufficiency. Housing, transportation and child care were identified as the leading reasons self-sufficiency has not been achieved.

Benefit cliffs were identified as the biggest barrier of all and results showed that low income families actually lose the incentive to get wage raises because they will suddenly become ineligible for benefits.

Stoltzfus noted that some participants were deliberately turning down possible raises at their places of employment to avoid losing program money.

Brittany Birken, from the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta said during her presentation on benefit cliffs that some people who are getting raises and becoming ineligible for programs, often are not getting more in raises than they would in benefits.

The Atlanta Fed’s Advancing Careers Initiative works to improve economic mobility and resilience by identifying how benefit cliffs and other structural barriers can prevent career advancement and work in supporting community and state efforts to improve the lives of families.

Birken added that short-term barriers are having a significant effect on long-term income-based goals.

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Andrew Powell is a contributor to The Center Square. 




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