Cliff Effect Initiative


The Cliff Effect Initiative

BACKGROUND In 2010, the Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition engaged in a conversation with State Senator Chuck McIllhinney about the difficulty the “cliff effect” poses for low-income working women and their families, especially with regard to child care. We agreed to work together on ameliorating this problem. As a result, the Coalition studied what other states* were doing to eliminate the cliff effect, and several months later presented the Senator with a research paper outlining options for the Commonwealth. After an inconclusive meeting with the PA Department of Public Welfare, the Senator decided to introduce legislation that would both correct two TANF issues inhibiting women’ s self-sufficiency, and secondly, would call for a study by the non-partisan Legislative and Budget Finance Committee to review current state practices across agencies that actually inadvertently cause the cliff effect. The Resolution calling for a study passed the Senate in June 2014. To read Sen. McIlhinney’s Co-Sponsorship Memo #4, “LBFC Study on the Cliff Effect,” click here. To read Sen. McIlhinney’s Co-Sponsorship Memo #5, “Addressing the Cliff Effect,” click here. To read our whitepaper, “Addressing the Cliff Effect in Pennsylvania,” click here.

*Iowa, Colorado , Indiana, Ohio, Hawaii, Minnesota, Illinois, Oklahoma

The results of this study have recently been published. To read the study click here.

Here’s How the Cliff Effect Works

A working parent who is eligible for public programs which help bridge the gap between dependency and self-sufficiency, will reach a “cliff” when a small increase in her (or his) hourly wage rate causes her to lose access to work support programs, such as housing, food stamps, Medical Assistance, and child care subsidies. This occurs because these support programs are means tested; families lose eligibility when their income increases. Not only does this reduce the overall family financial status and increase the chance of homelessness, hunger and poor health, but it results in the loss of child care making it unlikely she can continue to work at all. This defeats the personal and public objective of economic self-sufficiency, and makes no sense for PA taxpayers, families or economy.

What are we doing about it?

The Bucks County Women’s Advocacy Coalition has teamed up with Women’s Way in Philadelphia to form a statewide Making Work Pay PA Coalition which includes: Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University, Coalition for Low Income Pennsylvanians, PA Council of Churches, Community Justice Project, Community Legal Services, PathWays PA, Women and Girls Foundation of SW PA, and Women’s Opportunities Resource Center. The Making Work Pay PA Coalition will track and advocate for the results of the PA Senate study which will undoubtedly lead to proposed legislation in the Senate; as well as track and be involved in the efforts of Representative Dave Reed in the PA House as he and his colleagues develop policy recommendations for legislation in the House. We commend all of the legislators who are actively working to find effective solutions. As a result of our review of many of the previous reports and studies on this subject, we recognize that future policy recommendations must focus on how to:

  • make working pay for individuals,
  • encourage asset building, and
  • increase coordination among programs.

We also know from our review of efforts in other states that there is no one evidence-based solution to ameliorate poverty, but a range of strategic approaches that must be examined. Women make up 51% of Pennsylvanians living in poverty. We will advocate for system changes that will improve the lot of these and all Pennsylvania women and their families. Learn More and Join Us Join the statewide Making Work Pay PA Coalition to help pass legislation to correct the Cliff Effect in Pennsylvania. Click here to sign up.