Missouri is first state to pass law addressing benefits cliffs

Missouri is first state to pass law addressing benefits cliffs

Missouri lawmakers<br />
Senate Bill 82<br />
public assistance provisions<br />
benefits cliffs<br />
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)<br />
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)<br />
child care subsidy programs<br />
transitional benefits program<br />
poverty level<br />
state median family income<br />
welfare programs<br />
fiscal note<br />
Medicaid<br />
self-sufficiency<br />
workforce solutions<br />
government assistance<br />
economic opportunity<br />
dependence on the government<br />
benefits cliff phenomenon<br />
social and economic opportunity

Missouri is first state to pass law addressing benefits cliffs

Key Points

  • Missouri Leads the Way: The enactment of Senate Bill 82 establishes Missouri as the first state in the nation to address public assistance provisions, breaking ground in reforming safety-net benefits and combating the cycle of dependence on government support.

  • Benefits Cliff Challenge: The legislation acknowledges the pervasive issue of benefits cliffs, where individuals and families face a sudden loss of government assistance as their income increases. The law aims to mitigate this challenge by introducing transitional benefits programs in TANF, SNAP, and childcare subsidy programs.

  • Incomplete Solution: While the Missouri law is a commendable first step, there are concerns about its comprehensive effectiveness. The legislation, utilizing new funds, creates a supplemental program to ease the loss of benefits but doesn’t address underlying program variables contributing to benefits cliffs. Additionally, potential underfunding and the absence of Medicaid in the scope raise questions about the long-term sustainability and impact of the solution.

Missouri lawmakers recently took an important step toward helping poor and working-class residents escape safety-net benefits cliffs and experience the dignity and opportunity of work. By enacting Senate Bill 82, the Show Me State is now the first in the nation to address public assistance provisions that often entrap program participants by punishing work and perpetuating dependence on the government.

It’s no secret that many Americans rely on government assistance programs to make ends meet. But they often get caught in a Catch-22 situation—a benefits cliff—which disincentivizes them from looking for more meaningful work and gaining independence.

These benefits cliffs occur when an individual, family, or household experiences a sudden, steep loss of government assistance as income increases. Perversely, this net loss undermines the natural desire to earn more income because it takes a huge pay bump to overcome the cliff. The unintended consequences of a benefits cliff can be devastating—trapping individuals and families in a cycle of poverty.


How the new law works

This new Missouri law modifies benefits cliffs to enable residents to more easily earn additional income and experience the fulfillment and belonging that comes with social and economic opportunity. It does so by easing the loss of benefits in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and child care subsidy programs for families that lose income eligibility for these programs.

Specifically, this law establishes a transitional benefits program for TANF and SNAP—subject to funding from the state legislature—to help the transition off of benefits and reduce the impact of the program cliffs. The benefit is stepped down on a one-to-one basis as income increases.

It also helps to alleviate the loss of benefits from the child care subsidy program by creating a transitional benefits program using a sliding scale that steps down transitional benefits until the household reaches 300 percent of the poverty level or 85 percent of the state median family income.

When funded and implemented, this law will positively impact all individuals and families on the SNAP and childcare subsidy programs whose income exceeds program limits—but remain under income limits for the transitional benefits. It would not, however, impact TANF recipients because the program’s cash assistance tampers to zero, which means there would be no transitional benefits. 

And building upon the foundation laid in Missouri, other states should similarly experiment with creative solutions to the cliffs problem.

And building upon the foundation laid in Missouri, other states should similarly experiment with creative solutions to the cliffs problem.

The next step

While the new Missouri law is a commendable first step by a state to correct design flaws in benefit cliffs, there is still more work to do. For example, this legislation fails to address the variables in each program that drive the benefits cliff phenomenon in the first place. Instead, it uses new money to create a bridge that eases the loss of benefits when coming off designated programs.

Precisely because it uses new money, this solution represents a potentially huge and expensive expansion of welfare programs in Missouri. Indeed, the fiscal note accompanying the legislation estimates a cost of around $200 million per year in state revenue.

So rather than a comprehensive and holistic resolution to the benefits cliff problem, this new law essentially creates a supplemental program at risk of being underfunded in years when the legislature fails to fully fund at levels to meet demand—creating challenges for state agencies charged with program implementation. Moreover, the law doesn’t address Medicaid at all—the biggest driver of benefit cliffs in terms of dollar impact to families.

Despite these limitations, this new law recognizes that benefits cliffs are a real problem in need of a solution. And it attempts to address design flaws in two of the biggest-offending programs—SNAP and childcare. Finally, it recognizes the need to step down benefits in ways that eliminate cliffs as people earn additional income and learn to stand on their own with increasingly less dependence on the government.

In tackling the challenge of benefits cliffs, Missouri lawmakers have set the bar for other states to consider solutions to welfare systems that prevent people from becoming self-sufficient by holding them back from working as much as they could or should.

And building upon the foundation laid in Missouri, other states should similarly experiment with creative solutions to the cliffs problem. This includes waivers and other steps to address systemic program flaws. It also includes pilot projects to demonstrate how to eliminate cliffs with a net positive impact on those who work more, earn additional income and become self-sufficient faster than would otherwise be possible.

The Georgia Promise Scholarship (SB 233): What Private Schools Need to Know

The Georgia Promise Scholarship (SB 233): What Private Schools Need to Know

Children raising hand in classroom

The Georgia Promise Scholarship (SB 233): What Private Schools Need to Know

Key Points

  • The Georgia Promise Scholarship is a state-supported form of financial aid for students who need an alternative to traditional public school education.
  • The Tax Credit Scholarship Program could continue to serve students who are not eligible for a Promise Scholarship. Students would not be able to receive both scholarships. 
  • Promise Scholarships and Tax Credit Scholarships are complementary programs. Together, they diversify the sources and types of aid available to families and can broaden the potential applicant pool for private schools without creating additional fundraising burdens.

The Georgia Promise Scholarship is a state-supported form of financial aid for students leaving public school in search of a better educational setting. Under the proposed legislation, Senate Bill 233, eligible students would have $6,500—funds that the state would have spent on their public school education—set aside in an account. Parents then could direct that money to pay for educational expenses, including private school tuition, books, uniforms, and even transportation. 

Georgia already has two scholarship-based programs: 

  • The Special Needs Scholarship Program, which allows students with special education needs to choose the public or private school best suited for their situation. In the event that families choose a private school, the state provides a scholarship equal to the amount the student would have received for state-based education services. 
  • The Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which expands access to private schools for families who otherwise could not afford that option. 

Adding another scholarship program to Georgia’s menu of education options naturally raises questions about what Promise Scholarships would do and who would be affected. For Georgia’s private schools, these questions are top-of-mind as they seek to understand how Promise Scholarships would impact the Tax Credit Scholarship Program and potentially put other requirements on private schools.

Join the movement to give every child in Georgia the education they deserve! Visit Everykid.info to learn how you can make a difference and learn valuable information for parents on how you can help provide quality education for all Georgia kids. Don’t wait – visit Everykid.info now!

Join the movement to give every child in Georgia the education they deserve! Visit Everykid.info to learn how you can make a difference and learn valuable information for parents on how you can help provide quality education for all Georgia kids. Don’t wait – visit Everykid.info now!

Promise Scholarship (SB 233) FAQs for Georgia’s Private Schools 

Which students would be eligible for a Promise Scholarship?

Students currently attending public schools that are ranked in the bottom 25% of all public schools in academic performance.

Are Promise Scholarship dollars limited solely to tuition and expenses related to private school education?

No. Unlike existing school choice programs in the state such as the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship and the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship Program, the resources students receive from the Promise Scholarship are more flexible. In addition to private school tuition, allowable expenses could include tutoring and therapies—even offered outside of the private school setting—as well as curriculum and materials for homeschooling. 

What is required by the state of Georgia for a private school to accept students using Promise Scholarship dollars?

The requirements for private schools under the Promise Scholarship program substantially mirror the requirements for private schools already participating in either the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program or the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship Program. If you already participate in either or both programs, there will be very few (if any) new requirements.

In order to serve students with a Promise Scholarship, private schools must:

  • Have been in operation for one school year.
  • Submit aggregate data of Promise Scholarship Students’ attendance rates and course completion rates.*
  • Report on-time graduation rates of Promise Scholarship Students.* 
  • Comply with the anti-discrimination provisions of 42 U.S.C. Section 2000d.
  • Comply with state laws applicable to private schools.
  • Be physically located in Georgia.
  • Administer to Promise Scholarship Students at least one norm-referenced test that measures academic progress in math and language arts per year.*

*Requirement is unique to the Promise Scholarship program and not currently required by the Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

Would the creation of the Promise Scholarship program negatively impact existing school choice programs, such as the Tax Credit Scholarship Program?

No. The programs should be viewed as complementary to one another, allowing for a greater pool of financial aid for prospective private school families. 

Students would be prohibited from receiving both a Promise Scholarship and a scholarship from an SSO under the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship Program. However, the Promise Scholarship program gives each participating student $6,500 directly from the state—a higher value than the average scholarships awarded by SSOs under the tax credit program. 

The Tax Credit Scholarship Program could continue to serve students who are not eligible for a Promise Scholarship. 

Are there any protections for private schools, particularly faith-based schools, against state regulation as a result of accepting Promise Scholarship students and dollars?

Yes. Modeled after similar provisions in other states, there is explicit language in the bill prohibiting the state from requiring a private school or other participating provider to alter the creed, practices, admissions and employment policies, or curricula. 

What’s the key takeaway for Georgia’s private schools?

The Promise Scholarship Program and the Tax Credit Scholarship Program would be complementary to one another. Together, these two programs diversify the sources and types of aid available to families and can broaden the potential applicant pool for private schools without creating additional fundraising burdens.


The two-parent privilege and how it helps families escape poverty

The two-parent privilege and how it helps families escape poverty

Two-parent households<br />
Income inequality<br />
Social mobility<br />
Poverty reduction<br />
Marriage<br />
Economic well-being<br />
Single mothers<br />
Single fathers<br />
Education outcomes<br />
Behavioral tendencies<br />
American Dream<br />
Economic security<br />
Social challenges<br />
Family structure<br />
Economic performance<br />
Government intervention<br />
Grassroots change<br />
Cultural change<br />
Fathers' role<br />
Labor force participation<br />
Marriage penalties<br />
School choice<br />
Social agnosticism

The two-parent privilege and how it helps families escape poverty

Key Points

  • The decline in two-parent households is a major driver of income inequality and decreased social mobility in the United States.
  • Two-parent households provide a significant “privilege” for children, leading to better educational and economic outcomes, lower rates of incarceration, and improved chances of achieving the American Dream.
  • To alleviate poverty and strengthen two-parent households, policy proposals and grassroots cultural changes are needed, along with addressing the importance of fathers in society and promoting stable marriages and families without stigmatizing single mothers.

Addressing Income Inequality

Income inequality is on the rise. Social mobility is on the decline. Politicians focus a lot of firepower on these two realities, but they too often ignore a major driver of these trends—one that might surprise you. That’s the drop in the percentage of stable, two-parent households.

At the Georgia Center for Opportunity, our goal is to reduce poverty and encourage human flourishing. Healthy families are a key part of that. What often gets shunted to the side in this discussion, however, is how much family composition matters.

Family Matters

Bravely entering into this political fray is Brookings Institution economist Melissa Kearney with her new book, The Two-Parent Privilege: How Americans Stopped Getting Married and Started Falling Behind. Coming from a centrist (if not center-left) worldview, Kearney provides a refreshing and clear-eyed assessment of the powerful role that marriage plays in reducing poverty and bolstering economic well-being for children, adults and the nation as a whole.

Kearney even frames her book title in terms progressives better understand by using the term “privilege”—precisely what two-parent households afford children across a spectrum of metrics ranging from educational outcomes to behavioral tendencies, rates of incarceration and the likelihood of achieving the American Dream.

Here, Kearney asserts, “The decline in the share of US children living in a two-parent family over the past 40 years has not been good—for children, for families, or for the United States.”

Going further, she says, “Based on the overwhelming evidence at hand, I can say with the utmost confidence that the decline in marriage and the corresponding rise in the share of children being raised in one-parent homes has contributed to the economic insecurity of American families, has widened the gap in opportunities and outcomes for children from different backgrounds, and today poses economic and social challenges that we cannot afford to ignore—but may not be able to reverse.”

Of course, nobody seeks to stigmatize or deny the heroic efforts that loving and dedicated single parents sacrificially pour out to raise their children in difficult circumstances. Indeed, Kearney argues for strengthening the safety net for all families—regardless of structure.

But as she shows, the data can’t be so easily dismissed by those who resist policy discussions involving family formation distinctions.


The data backs it all up

Consider: 2019 US Census statistics reveal that families headed by a single mother were five times more likely to live in poverty than families headed by a married couple, while families headed by a single father were nearly twice as likely to live in poverty.

Further, research shows that 40% of Millennials who grew up in two-parent homes graduated from college by their mid-20s, compared to 17% for Millennials from non-intact homes. Moreover, 77% of Millennials who grew up with the two-parent privilege attained a middle-class or higher lifestyle by their mid-30s, compared to 57% from non-intact families.

And then there are many studies from Utah, where—more than any other state—marriage and two-parent households are encouraged. Indeed, Utah ranks at the top of economic performance—including GDP growth, favorable business climate, work environment and high rates of economic mobility. And Utahns experience lower child poverty and criminality rates, while enjoying enviable levels of emotional and physical wellbeing, healthy behaviors, life evaluation, student educational performance, and median family income.   

Taken together, these data suggest that stable, intact, two-parent marriages lay the foundation for strong families, which in turn create thriving communities of men, women and children. 

To alleviate poverty by strengthening two-parent households, Kearney suggests several policy proposals:

  • Work to restore and foster a norm of two-parent homes for children
  • Work to improve the economic position of men without a college level of education so they are more reliable marriage partners and fathers
  • Scale up government and community programs that show promise in strengthening families and improving outcomes for parents and children from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • Have a stronger safety net for families, regardless of family structure

Stronger Families Create Thriving Communities

Our vision is one where everyone has the support that comes from healthy thriving relationships and family.

Stronger Families Create Thriving Communities

Our vision is one where everyone has the support that comes from healthy thriving relationships and family.

The Policy Prescription

In offering these policy prescriptions, however, she adds that economics and government intervention can only do so much. There must also be grassroots, cultural change at the neighborhood and community levels. That’s why marriage enrichment and parenting classes like Raising Highly Capable Kids are crucial to reducing poverty.

Commendably, Kearney addresses a related—and also politically sensitive—topic: The important role that fathers play in society. She writes, “The absence of a father from a child’s home appears to have direct effects on children’s outcomes—and not only because of the loss of parental income. Nonfinancial engagement by a father has been found to have beneficial effects on children’s outcomes.”

Indeed, a father’s presence in the home is particularly important for boys. As Kearney notes, “Boys and young men are faring worse than girls and young women on a host of behavioral, educational, and economic dimensions. This gender gap in outcomes has been linked to the heightened disadvantage boys face when growing up without a father figure in their home.”

Of course, this creates a vicious cycle: Boys growing up without their fathers have a higher likelihood of themselves falling into traps of poverty: “The more boys struggle and fall behind, the less prepared they will be as adults to be reliable economic providers as husbands and dads,” Kearney writes.

Here, she points to our country’s crisis of masculinity and how declining labor force participation rates by prime-age men contribute to the marriage problem. Recent cultural shifts have “stripped many men of their traditional role as breadwinner for the family and, in simple terms, made them less desirable marriage partners,” she writes.

Clearly, the challenge is how to promote stable marriages and families when males increasingly remain in perpetual adolescence and fail to assume adult responsibilities that lead to success in work, marriage, and family.

Where do we go from here?

So how can we build more two-parent homes? Certainly investing more in vocational education and apprenticeships for men will help—as will implementing criminal justice reform and addressing the pandemic of untreated mental illness and opioid addiction among men.

Beyond these, we should expand school choice so that impoverished children stuck in failing public school districts have an opportunity to achieve a good education. And we need to eliminate marriage penalties in programs like Medicaid and public housing that punish marriage and encourage single-parenthood.

But perhaps most of all we need to have a frank national discussion about the importance of two-parent families “without coming across as shaming or blaming single mothers,” as Kearney writes. “By being honest about the benefits that a two-parent family home confers to children, we can break the pattern in which social agnosticism treats all households as the same in terms of the benefits they deliver children.”

Solving the food stamp benefits cliffs

Solving the food stamp benefits cliffs

Shopping Cart in aisle

Solving the food stamp benefits cliffs

Many Americans rely on SNAP benefits to afford food, but these same individuals and families face a trap that keeps them mired in dependency. It’s called the SNAP benefits cliff. A new report from the Georgia Center for Opportunity analyzes some possible solutions for addressing the benefits cliffs still present in safety-net programs like SNAP. 

What are benefits cliffs?

A benefits cliff is when an individual, family, or household loses more in net income and benefits from governmental assistance programs than it gains from additional earnings. This net loss is a perverse incentive that undermines the natural desire to earn more income.

At an individual level—or in the case of SNAP, at a household level—the impact has to do with the ability of the individual or household to overcome the cliff. If the household can increase its earnings (and other income) sufficiently relative to the loss in benefits and taxes, the cliff will have no impact on that specific individual or household.

Who is hurt the most by benefits cliffs?

Our computational analysis shows that it is mathematically possible for some one-member households, where the individual is disabled or elderly, to overcome a benefits cliff with a pay raise of less than 5%. However, almost all other households will require percentage income increases in the double digits or worse.

Larger families, especially those without elderly or disabled members of the household, fare much worse. For example, a family of four (where a single mom is raising three kids, for example) would require a pay raise of between 37% and 121%, assuming the family doesn’t have housing costs. For larger households with disabled or elderly members, that pay raise ranged from 30% to 109%.

Snap Benefits paper cover

 Access the Report:


Our comprehensive report on the SNAP Benefits Cliffs outlines the pitfalls in the current structure of the program and steps that can be made at a federal, state, and agency level.

Running the numbers: the impact of benefits cliffs

A family of four would begin experiencing SNAP benefits cliffs when their household income exceeds $36,084. This family would lose around $462.42 in SNAP benefits each month. To overcome those lost benefits, that same family would need to earn $58,280 a year, a 61.5 percent increase in income.

What is the marriage penalty? 

Another example of benefits cliffs’ detrimental impacts lies in the marriage penalty. For instance, a couple choosing to marry would leave them worse off financially by getting married than by staying single. Instead, many couples decide to remain unmarried to avoid the financial burden of the marriage penalty. 

SNAP benefits cliffs are at a 20-year high

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SNAP maximum allotments were raised significantly—between 45% and 51%. The Thrifty Food Plan was recalculated by the USDA, which impacted these increases. However, SNAP’s current benefits cliffs are at a 20-year high and may be the highest they’ve ever been. 

The situation is getting worse

Setting aside COVID-19 and the emergency allotment program, SNAP benefits cliffs are getting worse and, based on twenty years of data, have never been higher. This was not always the trend. The benefits cliffs cycled up to a high in 2009, slowly came down, and then leveled off for a few years. However, since the pandemic, they have all shot up to record highs.

Policy goals for improvement

We recommend approaching change from a policy perspective, and engaging Congress and the states to solve the problems with SNAP’s benefits cliffs. 

As a public policy goal, it would make sense to design a safety-net assistance program in such a manner that it minimizes potential cliffs for most cases. We believe that it should be relatively easy for individuals and households to overcome benefits cliffs by earning additional income. 

Our recommendations include: 

  • Limiting how long future emergency allotment programs last 
  • Requiring the USDA to recalculate the Thrifty Food Plan
  • Permanently eliminating benefits cliffs that a typical pay raise can’t mitigate
  • Implementing strategies to prevent marriage penalties 
  • Amending U.S. code to test potential solutions via demonstration projects
  • Opening the floor for the Secretary of Agriculture to work with states to solve benefits cliffs
  • Allowing states to conduct §2026 demonstration projects


Why crime in smaller cities like Columbus matters

Why crime in smaller cities like Columbus matters

Columbus Cityscape

Why crime in smaller cities like Columbus matters

Key Points

  • Reducing crime and restoring community safety is vital to addressing poverty and increasing opportunity.
  • While major metro areas are typically the focus of crime reduction efforts, there is a need to address crime in smaller communities seeing an uptick in crime.
  • Columbus, GA has seen an increase in violent crime over the last 5 years.
  • The Columbus community and municipalities must come together to address crime and work on preventative solutions.

We know that crime in major metro areas across the United States is up. Here in Georgia, Atlanta is front and center on that issue, highlighted by a recent report by the Georgia Center for Opportunity showing a concerning rise in violent and property crime over the last few years.

While the crime problem in larger cities is crucial to address, smaller cities tend to get overlooked. Yet these cities represent a large portion of the country’s population. There are 335 cities with population levels between 100,000 and one million, but only 14 cities with populations over one million.

Take Columbus, Georgia as an example. The city’s population now stands at approximately 203,000—a slight reduction from 2020 when the population was 207,000. Since 2017, Columbus has seen a spike in crime.

The crime problem—and what to do about it—is the focus of a new GCO report. Titled “Reducing Crime in Columbus: Safer Communities Through Policy,” the report is authored by Josh Crawford, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at GCO.

Quick Facts on Crime in Columbus

  • Columbus saw one of its most violent years with 59 murders in 2021.
  • The city’s population is on the decline, correlated to the rise in violent crime.
  • A decrease in Columbus police has gone hand-in-hand with the crime spike.
  • Attempted murder convicts in Columbus who were released in 2022 only served 35% of their time.

“The human cost of this violence is dramatic, cutting lives short and leaving behind grieving families and fractured communities,” Crawford said. “The toll of violent crime goes beyond the physical cost to those directly impacted and includes financial costs to victims and taxpayers, the loss of productive years, and decreased economic mobility and growth in communities afflicted with high rates of crime.”

Cover of the Columbus Crime Report

Access the Report:

Reducing Crime in Columbus

Our Columbus Crime Report details six practical solutions that city leaders can use to reduce crime in Columbus and restore safety, hope, and opportunity to the broader community. 

Why Smaller Cities Matter

Our focus at GCO is on empowering underserved, disadvantaged, and low-income communities. By starting with Columbus, we want to equip more of these overlooked cities across Georgia and the U.S. with policy reforms that will reduce crime and restore community safety. 

Six Policy Recommendations to Reduce Crime

Because Columbus is smaller, it’s easier to implement changes that would make a big difference. Success in Columbus could provide a model to inspire change in similar-sized cities.

Fixing the Columbus crime problem is about focusing on the most violent offenders. By addressing gang-related violence and solving more homicide investigations, Columbus can restore community safety, improve trust with city officials and law enforcement, and expand upward mobility and opportunity for residents.

Crawford suggests:

  • Addressing disrepair in Columbus’ communities by expanding cleanup efforts, tearing down or renovating abandoned buildings, and installing adequate street lighting.
  • Building trust between community residents and law enforcement and social services, particularly through protecting the rights of victims.
  • Removing egregious offenders from communities by implementing gang-enhancement provisions such as SB44 (2023) that keep these individuals incarcerated.
  • Improving and requiring pre-entry cognitive behavioral therapy services for all juvenile offenders, no matter how non-violent their offenses.
  • Reevaluating reentry programs through an external third party, examining the impact on revocation, rearrest, and reconviction.
How a Government Shutdown Actually Hurts the Poor

How a Government Shutdown Actually Hurts the Poor

Best practices for reducing crime can empower California to build safer communities through policy.

How a Government Shutdown Actually Hurts the Poor

Key Points

  • Government shutdowns occur when Congress doesn’t pass a set of bills that give federal agencies and services the approval and funding necessary to operate. 
  • Government shutdowns and political wrangling distract from the real issues facing the poor and delay much-needed safety net reforms that would help people move out of government dependency.
  • There are bipartisan solutions Congress can act on to better serve low-income and marginalized communities.

Government shutdowns occur when Congress doesn’t pass a set of bills that give federal agencies and services the necessary funding to operate. Without this approval, agencies must pause all non-essential activity until Congress takes action. Threats of government shutdowns often go hand-in-hand with political conflicts among federal leaders. When this dynamic takes hold in D.C., government shutdowns become, at best, a distraction from the real issues facing the poor and, at worst, a roadblock to efforts to move people out of government dependency.

What Happens During a Government Shutdown?

During a government shutdown, several disruptions happen:  

  • Many federal employees are temporarily out of a job. They are instructed not to show up to work and aren’t paid during the shutdown window, though they typically receive back-pay once a shutdown ends.
  • Essential government employees, such as military, air traffic control, and TSA, are expected to keep working without pay. 
  • Americans may experience delays in government-administered processes, such as permits and passports.
  • Benefits from Social Security, Medicare, and most other need-based programs still go out, but shutdowns often lead to furloughs or reduced staffing levels in federal agencies responsible for administering these programs. As a result, beneficiaries may experience longer processing times for applications, appeals, and inquiries. 
  • Nutrition programs, including SNAP and WIC, are the most at-risk from a government shutdown, with WIC being immediately impacted upon a shutdown (though benefits may still continue for some days) and SNAP having about a month of funding available after a shutdown.

Government Shutdowns and Safety Net Programs 

For many Americans who currently need assistance from programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), and Social Security, a government shutdown can be a fearful prospect. The worry of losing essential benefits and facing greater financial hardship can take a significant toll on individuals and families in low-income households and communities. 

The good news for these Americans is that need-based services are typically the last area to be affected and the first to receive any additional approved funding, and government shutdowns would have to go on for a long time—longer than the current record of 34 days—before beneficiaries notice any change in financial assistance. The biggest hurdle is that agencies may be slower to respond to applications, inquiries, and other administrative needs. 

Government Shutdowns Prolong the Suffering of Low-Income, Marginalized Communities

Government shutdowns can generate consequences and inconveniences across the country, but it’s important to recognize that not everyone bears the brunt of a government shutdown equally. 

A government shutdown may not cut off food stamps, social security, or other safety net benefits immediately. However, low-income and vulnerable communities still suffer because their struggles get lost in the midst of political conflicts. The impending shutdown is brewing because political wrangling and polarization continue to distract federal leaders from addressing real problems and broken safety net systems.

There Are Solutions Congress Can Act On to Create Better Pathways Out of Poverty

To better serve people living on the margins, federal lawmakers must stop avoiding the reality that the design of our safety net is a barrier, not a bridge, to opportunity. 

In the current system, recipients are forced to navigate multiple, disconnected programs, eligibility requirements, and caseworkers—a maze that becomes a trap for welfare dependence instead of a secure path out of poverty. Government shutdowns can certainly add to this tediousness and complexity, but there’s a bigger question looming in the background: How do we design our safety net system so that it  actually helps Americans become more self-sufficient and regain hope and dignity along the way? 

There are solutions Congress can implement.

Expanding the One Door Model to Bridge Welfare and Work 

The One Door Model does away with disconnected programs and integrates human services with work support so that beneficiaries who are capable of working have a clear, supportive, and accessible path to personal well-being and meaningful jobs.

This reform improves safety net services by: 

  • Streamlining programs and making the system easier for recipients to navigate.
  • Building a bridge to work, training, and education to promote self-sufficiency over dependency. 
  • Providing cost savings for federal and state budgets.


One Door To Opportunity

The purpose and direction of our safety net programs are to help and not hinder opportunity. We must build a system that provides one door to access opportunities leading to thriving. This is a dramatic change in how we deliver help to those in need.

One Door To Opportunity

The purpose and direction of our safety net programs are to help and not hinder opportunity. We must build a system that provides one door to access opportunities leading to thriving. This is a dramatic change in how we deliver help to those in need.

The first and only state to adopt this approach is Utah, where it has changed the lives of thousands—everyone from single mothers to ex-offenders seeking a fresh start. The One Door Model is a fix all states could implement…if Congress would allow them. Under the current federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), states are blocked from adopting the reform. Congress could change this simply by revising WIOA. 

Removing the Barrier of Benefits Cliffs 

All safety net programs suffer from a benefits cliffs problem. A benefits cliff is when an individual, family, or household loses more in benefits from government assistance programs than it gains from additional earned income.

When a person experiences a benefits cliff, they are thrust into serious difficulties: loss of housing, going hungry, fearing that their children will be taken by Child Protective Services, and more. While most people don’t want to depend on government assistance long-term, a higher wage often doesn’t offset the vulnerabilities created by a sudden, steep loss of benefits.

The One Door Model, work requirements, and other welfare-to-work solutions can encourage more people toward employment and independence, but this approach isn’t a full solution. As long as benefits cliffs exist in the safety net, people will face a significant barrier that incentivizes them to choose government dependency. Reforms are needed at both the federal and state levels to empower more households to overcome benefits cliffs through steady work and typical pay raises so that they can achieve self-sufficiency more quickly and securely. 

Knowing that practical, life-changing solutions are out there, we can look at government shutdown debates in a different light and ask: What are the political games in DC costing communities? For millions of Americans, the tragic answer is that it’s costing them the chance  for a more fulfilled, self-sufficient life as long as federal leaders devote energy to political distractions instead of bipartisan opportunities to fix our broken safety net system.