Facts about Rhode Island Works

The vast majority of RI Works recipients are young children.

RI Works provides minimal cash support and work readiness services to approximately 7,000 low-income families. Almost 70 percent of RI Works recipients are children, and half of the children are under the age of six. In 40 percent of the families, only the children receive cash assistance, either because their parent is significantly disabled and receiving SSI benefits, or the children are being raised by a relative.

Most families are small.

More than 80 percent of families have one or two children.

Only citizens or legally eligible immigrants can receive benefits.

RI Works families must provide proof of citizenship or lawful immigrant status. Lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are not eligible for RI Works benefits for five years from the date they become lawful permanent residents. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for RI Works benefits.

Parents receiving cash assistance must participate in work activities.

As a condition of receiving RI Works for his or her family, a parent must look for work or participate in work-readiness activities. If the parent fails to participate for a total of three months, without good cause, the entire family loses benefits. Work activities should be tailored to the meet the parents’ needs: Some parents have worked and just need help finding a new job; others may need to improve their literacy or English language skills or training before they can find a job. Parents with disabilities need the specialized services of the Office of Rehabilitative Services to prepare for and find work.

Many parents lack basic skills and need education or skills-based training to get a decent job.

Of the most recent group of RI Works parents tested, 36 percent had less than an eighth grade reading level, which is the level necessary to participate in a certificate training program (like a CNA). Almost half of parents (43 percent) report that they do not have a high school diploma.

Families receiving RI Works benefits are extremely poor.

A parent and two children receive $554 per month in cash assistance, an amount that is 65 percent below the federal poverty level. Benefits haven’t been raised in over 20 years and are the second lowest in New England. Even counting SNAP benefits, the family’s income is 30 percent below the federal poverty level. Just since “welfare reform” was implemented in 1997, the value of the cash benefit has eroded by ten percent.

Rhode Island spends no state dollars on cash assistance benefits.

The state receives $90 million from the federal government through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. To receive these funds, Rhode Island must spend $64.4 million in state funds. This is called the “maintenance of effort” (“MOE”) requirement. MOE can include funds spent on families with income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level for a variety of programs. In FY 2012, RI’s MOE was spent on DCYF staff and services, the state Earned Income Tax Credit, child care and other programs. For the third consecutive year, no state funds were spent on cash assistance for needy families. Moreover, federal spending for cash assistance has dropped from $70.6 million in 1998 to $34 million in 2012. Yet, the state failed to spend $11.9 million of the TANF block grant in 2011 and has $4.4 million in unspent TANF funds in the current fiscal year.

RI Works failed to provide a safety net for families during the recent recession.

The cash assistance program is intended to provide a cushion for families during economic downturns. Rhode Island consistently had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country during the recession. Yet, among the handful of states whose caseloads declined, Rhode Island had the steepest reduction (29 percent) of families receiving cash assistance, largely due to the restrictions imposed by the enactment of the RI Works law.