Sen. Murray, Rep. Handy proposal to raise RI Works assistance incorporated in state budget bill

Bill provides first raise in state’s cash assistance program in 30 years


STATE HOUSE – The 2022 state budget bill approved by the House Finance Committee last week was amended to include elements of legislation sponsored by Rep. Arthur Handy and Sen. Melissa A. Murray to provide long-overdue benefits increases to enrollees in Rhode Island Works, the state’s cash assistance and work-readiness program for low-income children and their families.

The budget bill (2021-H 6122A), which will come before the House of Representatives Thursday and then be sent to the Senate, will provide a 30-percent increase to the cash benefits provided through Rhode Island Works – the first such increase in three decades. It also allows the $100 yearly clothing allowance for children to be paid for infants and toddlers, who are excluded from eligibility under current law. To improve parents’ readiness for employment and retention, the bill would exempt income from employment for six months when a parent starts a job, or until a household income exceeds 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

“At last, families who rely on Rhode Island Works are being made a budget priority. As a state, we have been shamefully ignoring the needs of these vulnerable families for 30 years, allowing the value and effectiveness of this critical support to diminish. These increases are sorely needed by families, the majority of which are single mothers with young children. Living in poverty causes toxic stress that affects the growth and development of children in virtually every way. I am relieved to see the expansion of this program in the budget bill. Every child, including those born into poverty, deserves not just to survive, but to thrive,” said Senator Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).

Said Representative Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), “These changes will help to finally bring Rhode Island Works into the 21st century so it actually serves as a viable safety net for our poorest young families throughout the state in times of crisis. They help address several of the ways the program has become disconnected to the reality of Rhode Islanders’ needs over the years, and I am hopeful that this will be the start of a public discussion about all the ways we can make it better serve its purpose, which is to actually help people escape poverty and have a better future.”

Senator Murray and Representative Handy introduced legislation (2021-S 02262021-H 5683) earlier this session that included increased benefits, the expansion of the clothing allowance to infants and toddlers, and the income disregards as parents begin working, among other changes. The bill is supported by the Raising Rhode Island Coalition, which includes 40 community, social service, religious, and advocacy organizations that serve low-income families.

Rhode Island Works benefits have not changed since 1991, while all other New England states have adjusted their benefit to help families’ purchasing power keep up with inflation. The benefit, averaging $6 per person per day, is the lowest in New England. In February, 2,400 families were receiving RI Works benefits, including 5,578 people.


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