Murray proposal would raise payments received through RI Works

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PROVIDENCE – The 2022 state budget bill approved by the House Finance Committee last week was amended to include elements of legislation sponsored by Sen. Melissa Murray and Rep. Arthur Handy to provide long-overdue benefits increases to enrollees in Rhode Island Works, the state’s cash assistance and work-readiness program for low-income children and their families.

The budget bill (2021-H 6122A), which will come before the House of Representatives on Thursday, June 24, and then be sent to the Senate, would provide a 30 percent increase to the cash benefits provided through Rhode Island Works – the first such increase in three decades. It also allows the $100 yearly clothing allowance for children to be paid for infants and toddlers, who are excluded from eligibility under current law. In hopes to improve parents’ readiness for employment and retention, the bill would exempt income from employment for six months when a parent starts a job, or until a household income exceeds 185 percent of the federal poverty line.

“At last, families who rely on Rhode Island Works are being made a budget priority. As a state, we have been shamefully ignoring the needs of these vulnerable families for 30 years, allowing the value and effectiveness of this critical support to diminish,” said Murray, who represents District 24 in North Smithfield and Woonsocket. “These increases are sorely needed by families, the majority of which are single mothers with young children. Living in poverty causes toxic stress that affects the growth and development of children in virtually every way. I am relieved to see the expansion of this program in the budget bill. Every child, including those born into poverty, deserves not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Murray and Handy introduced legislation earlier this session that included increased benefits, the expansion of the clothing allowance to infants and toddlers, and the income disregards as parents begin working, among other changes. The bill is supported by the Raising Rhode Island Coalition, which includes 40 community, social service, religious, and advocacy organizations that serve low-income families.

Rhode Island Works benefits have not changed since 1991, while all other New England states have adjusted their benefit to help families’ purchasing power keep up with inflation, according to a release on the proposal. The benefit, averaging $6 per person per day, is the lowest in New England.

In February, 2,400 families were receiving RI Works benefits, including 5,578 people.

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