Rhode Island Works (RI Works) is the state’s safety net program that provides cash assistance and work readiness services to low-income families with children under age 18. RI Works was passed in 2008, replacing the Family Independence Program (FIP) which was enacted in 1996 after federal welfare reform implemented the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Approximately 4,100 low-income families receive RI Works benefits.
The TANF block grant provides states with a fixed amount of federal funds to operate their own programs designed to meet TANF purposes. Rhode Island’s initial program, The Family Independence Program, promised to protect vulnerable children, help parents gain and sustain gainful employment, and provide support for low-income working parents through cash supplements, health care, and child care assistance.
Eleven years after the implementation of RI Works, it is time to review who the program is serving, how well it is achieving its purpose of supporting young children and helping them thrive, and preparing parents for employment. This paper explores these issues with the hope that it will spur action by the Department of Human Services (DHS), which administers the program, and state policymakers to make program changes that will improve outcomes for children and families, as well as to encourage better integration across agencies serving these families.