The Womxn Project is a statewide organization focused on leveraging the power of art, activism, advocacy and education to advance the principles of reproductive justice, which demands that we all have the right to determine when and how we build our relationships, families and futures and that we have the ability to live and raise our children with dignity.
We are proud to submit testimony in support of H7789. Rhode Island Works is a safety net for families in times of crisis, and it’s supposed to help them get back on their feet. H7789 would lift hundreds of children out of deep poverty by building on efforts from last year. The Rhode Island General Assembly made a small increase to the benefit in 2021. This moved the needle on economic well-being for the 5,000 children receiving benefits, but they are still living in deep poverty.
This bill would increase the monthly benefit to 50% of the poverty level benefits, but they are still living in deep poverty. Increasing the monthly benefit to 50% of the poverty level (from $721 to $959 for a family of 3) will further help Rhode Island’s poorest children. The bill would also provide an annual cost-of-living adjustment to prevent the loss of the value of the RI Works monthly benefit. During the recent ten-year period (2012 – 2021), the cost-of-living has increased annually by an average of 1.9% while basic needs items for families with young children have increased significantly. For example, the average unit price of diapers increased 14% in the same period.
The bill would also allow parents the chance to continue their education and improve future opportunities and financial ability without it impacting their access to support. It would also extend the lifetime benefit. TANF is the federal program that funds the RI Works program. Federal law allows states to provide 60 months of TANF-funded benefits to needy children and families. Rhode Island is one of only 11 states that have a limit that is less than 60 months. Extending the lifetime limit to 60 months would significantly reduce stress and hardship on families and ease the process for DHS staff.
Finally, this bill will make sure more of the federal TANF block grant is used to support children and families. RI should invest more of the block grant in direct assistance for the 2,700 families enrolled in the program. This program has been talked about as a launch pad for independence by making sure parents have more support to get and keep employment with a living wage and support their families. It is also critical to getting more Rhode Islanders out of the cycle of poverty.
We finally raised payment rates to families last year after three decades, but we are still falling far short of what people need. This bill is one step along with efforts to close gaps in health care and prevent medical debt, and programs and policies to ensure a living wage and fair workplaces. We can and should do more to support the well-being and opportunities of all families in our state. H7789 is an important step forward.
Contact: Emma Gauthier, [email protected], 402-400-0061