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Smoothing the Benefits Cliff: A National Movement for Change

May 31, 2024

The Benefits Cliff keeps hard-working people down by taking away critical support systems that vulnerable individuals and their families need to make ends meet. This problem is felt locally in Greater Rochester, across New York State, and throughout the entire United States. Greater Rochester Chamber is part of a national movement calling on our government to smooth this cliff and help strengthen our communities and workforce pipeline. Here’s an outline of what’s happening around the country, with thousands of workers, businesses, non-profits, and government partners coming together to advocate for change:


Building Awareness

Helping to spread awareness about what the Benefits Cliff is, how it hurts workers and perpetuates generational poverty, and what can be done about it is critical to get support and buy-in from community members, private sector businesses, and government partners in creating change. The Federal Reserve of Atlanta has been a leader on this topic. They have partnered with other organizations around the country to build awareness about the benefits cliff among employers and employees. The Atlanta Fed CLIFF Dashboard helps workers understand and anticipate benefits cliffs. They have partnered with 75 community organizations in 22 states to provide specific data for those communities and ensure maximum impact throughout the country. These partner organizations include non-profits, corporate employers, and government partners including the United Way Aloha, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and the City of Richmond, Virginia, among many others.

The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation has also helped to amplify this conversation and build awareness about the benefits cliff. In 2022, the foundation researched and published a comprehensive report on the subject to the US Chamber’s 300,000 small business, corporate, chamber of commerce, and trade association members across the United States.

Other smaller organizations like Leap Fund, based out of New York City, are also working to provide training to employers about how to best support employees to minimize the effects of the benefits cliff. They have created a program to train coaches to help deploy their lessons at organizations across the country and maximize their impact.


Modernizing Benefits

In addition to building awareness about the benefits cliff, organizations need to find ways to smooth the cliff and modernize benefits to help break the cycles of poverty and strengthen the workforce pipeline. The Aspen Institute’s Financial Security Program has been a leader in this effort, partnering with the United States Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Branch of the federal government to host a Financial Resilience Summit this past April to convene stakeholders and address this topic.

In addition to this recent summit, since 2020, the Aspen Institute’s Benefits21 program has found ways to convene public and private leaders to drive policy innovation with the intention of closing benefit gaps today and modernizing benefits to ensure the financial security of all workers.

The Council on State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures have also both brought conversations surrounding the benefits cliff to government leaders across the country to share insights into this issue and collaborate to find a solution to this widespread issue.


Shaping Policy

As we work to understand and implement strategies to modernize public assistance programs, our partners in government are working to make these changes become law. Here in New York, we’ve seen a variety of policies proposed and implemented to address the benefits cliff, through the enacted FY2024 budget and through bills in progress in the Senate and Assembly. Greater Rochester Chamber has compiled an update on the way the benefits cliff is being addressed in Albany, which you can see here.

Since 2021, at least 25 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted legislation related to benefits cliffs. These policies include retained benefits during a transitional period after crossing an income threshold, a sliding scale for several benefits, the creation of calculators and task forces to study the effects of the Benefits Cliff in their unique communities, and other approaches to address this phenomenon. The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled a list of the legislation enacted between 2021-2023 which can be found here.


Throughout history, our Greater Rochester/Upstate NY region has played an important role in social movements of all kinds, and this national push to smooth the benefits cliff is no different. Greater Rochester Chamber represents the concerns of our members and our 2024 advocacy campaign surrounding the benefits cliff stems from conversations with several member stakeholders and community leaders in our region who have expressed interest in this. Wegmans has been bringing attention to this issue for nearly 15 years and is working with their employees in Rochester to tackle this issue directly. Action for a Better Community ran a pilot survey in 2019 to study and publicize the benefits cliff reduction program. And Erie County’s “Live Well Erie Workforce Development Pilot Project” is testing the best ways to help transition workers off of public assistance to self-sufficiency. We appreciate the efforts of these leaders and others in our own backyard who are keeping our region at the forefront of national change and helping uplift hard-working individuals trapped in poverty.

To learn more about the benefits cliff, please see


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