AMRE | Benefits Cliff II

October 25, 2020   /  

Building a BRIDGE to Self-Sufficiency: Policy Prescriptions to Address Benefits Cliffs in Ohio

Tim Cotter ’22, Philosophy
Stachal Harris ’21, Political Science
Michael Nahhas
’21, Economics
Advisors: Cameron Maneese, Bas van Doorn

Experiential Learning Student Award Winner: Stachal Harris ’21

Based on research, the team recommended policy solutions on the local and state level to reduce the impact of a benefits cliff, as well as give an update on the current rules and eligibility for public benefits. The team collaborated with local nonprofits, various state and local elected officials, and government agencies to determine challenges and solutions, especially under COVID-19. The team developed a four-pronged approach to address benefits cliffs in Ohio, which they presented to a variety of state and local agencies, organizations, and elected officials.

This project was made possible by financial support from the following organizations: The Andrew Fellowships Fund, The Laura B. Frick Charitable Trust, The Ralph R. & Grace B. Jones Foundation, The Donald & Alice Noble Foundation, Bala Venkataraman, The Wayne County Community Foundation, The Wilson Fellowships Fund, The Fund for Our Economic Future, and United Way of Wayne and Holmes Counties.

Members of Benefits Cliff II will be online to field comments on Nov. 5 from 11am-1pm.

42 thoughts on “AMRE | Benefits Cliff II”

  1. Thank you, Benefits Cliff Team, for working so hard to find solutions to significant issue. I enjoyed working with all of you this summer.

    1. Thank you, Vikki! I enjoyed working on this project and appreciated your support throughout the process.

  2. Thank you so much for this research and presentation of your work. This is such an important issue for individuals and for policy-makers, and the mix of solutions you recommend- empowering people with information and also smoothing out the cliff in several key areas, sounds really effective. I hope that you work is widely shared, as I am sure it can have an important impact!

    1. Thank you for your comment President Bolton! We hope the conversation continues on this topic until actual change is made.

    2. Much appreciated, President Bolton! We hope that our research provides the spark both for policy change and further research on the subject.

  3. This is such an important issue that I didn’t realize was so widespread. I have seen this happening in my hometown and it is great to know that such talented individuals are working to come up with applicable solutions!

    1. Thank you, Kayla! I was also surprised by how pervasive the cliff is–in our interviews with frontline workers, we consistently heard about individuals and families struggling to advance, only to suddenly lose benefits and be left without recourse. We hope to move the discussion forward, as we agree that this is an important issue!

    2. Even though we looked at the Benefits Cliff inOhio we saw it’s wide spread affects elsewhere and it seems people are finally starting to become aware of it as an issue. This is inspiring because that means solutions can start being created.

  4. Great work! As you know, living on the benefits cliff poses significant challenges and several of our community organizations stand to be able to improve services based on the continued work on this issue. Thank you for your efforts.

    1. Thank you, Dean Griffin! We appreciate the opportunity that AMRE provided us to tackle this issue head-on and hopefully pave the way for future policy changes and legislation.

  5. What a pleasure to watch this presentation and to be reminded of the time, energy and creativity you all put into solving the problem of the Benefits Cliffs. As President Bolton indicated the “mix of solutions” offers us a robust path forward. It will be interesting to check back and see where your road map has taken us.
    I hope you know how great it was to work with you. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Cameron, for your kind words and vital support in advising us! As you know, we hope the mix of solutions provides a robust path forward and that it allows each organization to deal with benefits cliffs in ways that are closely tailored to its aims!

    2. Thank you Cameron! None of this would have been possible without your support, guidance, and the apple juice you provided !!

  6. I echo all the comments that have already been made and just want to add that you all do a terrific job presenting as a group. Very nice narration, hand-offs and cohesion. Congratulations, All!

    1. Thank you, Director McConnell! Our AMRE project this summer provided us with invaluable opportunities to further develop our research, coordination, and presentation skills alike!

    2. Thank you! I can definitely say AMRE gave us the tools to feel confident in the information we gathered and the ability to be able to present it clearly.

  7. Tim, Stachal and Michael. This is such important work for the Wooster community. I am in the process of interviewing many in the community about College/community relations and the community AMRE projects, Benefits Cliff I & II in particular, have been mentioned again and again as model examples of positive collaborations. Real changes for the good are coming out of this work. Thank you all for being such energetic participants in the AMRE program. As we said early on, the strength of the program is built on the work done each year and you all have added to that strength. The skills you developed in remote research and consulting, and the ability you showed to self-motivate and take ownership of the work are ones that will be great for you going forward. Please don’t hesitate to bug us to serve as reference for you in future work or schooling opportunities!

    1. Exactly!
      That is great news.
      Thank you for the follow up research and interviews Dr. Ramsay.

    2. Much appreciated, Dr. Ramsay! I’m ecstatic to hear that we have been mentioned positively in interviews with members of the community. We appreciate the opportunities that AMRE has provided, as well as the team-building and social events that AMRE organized effectively under novel circumstances. Thank you for your kind words and support!

    3. Thank you Dr. Ramsay, I’m excited to see where the Benefits Cliff project goes in the future. I am so happy I was able to be apart of this step in the process.

  8. Wow! Great job, Benefits Cliff Team! I’m so impressed with the quality of analysis and clarity of thinking. I’m glad to hear that Stachal is pursuing a public policy-related graduate degree, and hope that Tim and Michael put their superpowers to good use as well!

    1. Thank you, Dr. Krain! Hopefully I soon develop the superpower to fix this issue by just snapping my fingers!

  9. Congratulations on winning the award Stachal! I like how your project makes real impacts on benefiting the community!

  10. I was very interested in your project and have enjoyed hearing the final product. I wanted to ask whether you think that the changes outlined here as applied to Ohio could have potential for implementation either at a more local or at the national level?

    1. Thank you for your question. In regards to Transitional Benefits Programs, there definitely could be some implementation on the national level but it would probably require the federal agencies to permit the programs to exist in each state. There would need to be some clarification on what’s done locally, on the state level, and federally. During the eight weeks we worked on this project these distinctions were not clear and often times local agencies didn’t know where policies originated from. Therefore fixing that issue would need to happen first.

    2. Thank you! Some of these policy changes can definitely be applied to other states, whereas others are specifically tailored with Ohio’s particular system in mind, and may need to be reworked to achieve success in other states. For instance, our Benefits Navigator proposal is a novel and easily adaptable spin on the benefits calculator, a program that has already been adopted in other states (e.g. Massachusetts). The Benefits Navigator should not face substantial issues being applied to other states or localities. Conversely, the Employment Incentives PRC program is Ohio-specific in its current form: PRC is a localized service that is unique to Ohio despite using TANF funds. Thus, any application to other states would need to be applied in a different way for each state. However, this should not be insurmountable, as a pilot program in Allen County, OH has been able to use these TANF funds through PRC for this purpose, indicating that (although some reworking may be necessary) such financial employment incentives programs are tentatively permissible under current federal guidelines.

  11. Your research team really covered a lot of important information that is crucial to many individuals not only in Ohio, but across the nation. Well done! Given the complexity of these issues your 4-pronged approach seems wise. That said, since politics and governmental bureaucracy define the limits of policy and it’s implementation, which of the 4 approaches do you consider to be the critical first step if they can’t be done simultaneously? Which one, if implemented, would be the single most beneficial approach to addressing the income cliff for the most number of individuals?

    1. Thank you for your question. I hope Tim agrees with me but I would have to say the Benefits Navigator would be most advantageous to do first. I think the one of the largest issue with the benefits cliff is the lack of knowledge surrounding it that prevents long term planning. The benefits navigator empowers both individuals and gives local agencies the resources they need to inform their clients. If a frontline worker is able to see where cliffs could happen if a clients income changes they then could help develop different paths for mitigating total loss of benefits.

    2. I would probably say the BRIDGE model is the single policy that is most important to implement first. By directly eliminating and smoothing out cliffs, the BRIDGE model does the most work to improve the material conditions of individuals who would otherwise be subjected to turbulent and arbitrary decreases in disposable income. That said, because these policies fall under the jurisdiction of different governmental organizations on a state and local level, it is not implausible that these policies could be developed simultaneously.

      1. I agree with this, but it would require getting a lot of people on board with doing things differently and we know people don’t like change (sadly).

        1. Thank you, Stachal and Tim, for your thoughtful responses. They are a good example of both the possibilities and the challenges of this much needed legislation. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done, and many ways to approach the issue. Thank you for tackling this important research.

  12. I wanted to share that a copy of your final report has been requested and sent to the state Job and Family Services organization to advance their work to create a “bridge”. Your work is making an impact!

    1. I’m glad to hear that our work has been sent to the state JFS! Hopefully they’ll find it useful in determining paths forward to addressing benefits cliffs!

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