Kenyatta introduces legislation to study impact of ‘benefits cliff’

HARRISBURG, Feb. 29 – State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Phila., has introduced legislation to study the public assistance benefits cliff, which refers to a situation when public benefit programs phase out quickly for families as household earnings increase.

This legislation would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study and issue a report on the impact of benefits cliffs in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, roughly 12 percent of all Pennsylvanians live in poverty, with eight percent living in extreme poverty.

“In many instances, Pennsylvanians living in poverty become constrained to a life of poverty due to the ‘cliff effect,’ which perpetuates the poverty cycle, rather than incentivizing individuals to become self-sufficient,” Kenyatta said. “This study should give us a better idea of just how much the benefits cliff affects Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable families, and how we can ensure these families get the most out of important public benefit programs.”

Kenyatta is joined by state Reps. Morgan Cephas and Roni Green, both D-Phila., and La’Tasha D. Mayes, D-Allegheny, in introducing this bill.

Cephas explained how benefits cliffs impact marginalized communities. 

“Not only are Black women paid less than white or male counterparts, opportunities to escape this cycle of poverty are fewer – leading to the public assistance ‘benefits cliff’ having a larger effect on this group. This study will be a great start to quantifying that impact on communities of color and women across our state and serve as a solid basis for solutions to uplift people into self-sufficiency,” she said. 

Green offered her support of this study.

"Benefits cliffs are cages that trap families in poverty. When it makes sense to forego a raise or better opportunity because the sudden drop off in benefits would devastate the family, something is seriously wrong with the system," Green said.  "This study is a necessary step toward bettering our public benefits programs and providing opportunity for Pennsylvanians who are struggling to not only sustainably elevate out of poverty but to thrive."

Mayes touched on the impact this study could have on Pittsburgh residents living in poverty.

“Currently, 11% of Allegheny County residents are in poverty, but one-third of Pittsburgh's residents lives near the poverty line, meaning those families cannot qualify for critical state services such as food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, child care subsidies and energy assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,” Mayes said. “Today, children are the largest age group experiencing poverty. This study will allow us to consider how the public assistance ‘benefits cliff’ impacts Pennsylvanian's families so we may help them thrive in today's economy, especially as the cost of living continues to increase.”