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3/24/2022 Murray, Handy sponsor legislation backed by Raising RI Coalition to lift families out of deep poverty

STATE HOUSE — Sen. Melissa Murray and Rep. Arthur Handy are sponsoring legislation backed by the Raising Rhode Island Coalition to lift children out of deep poverty by increasing the Rhode Island Works benefit to 50% of the federal poverty level. 

Under the legislation (2022-S 2316, 2022-H 7789), a family of three would see their monthly benefit rise from $721 to $959, giving families more resources for clothing, toiletries, housing, transportation, food and other basic needs.

The Raising Rhode Island Coalition, which last year led a successful campaign to increase the Rhode Island Works benefit for the first time in 30 years, is seeking to further increase the benefit and to index it to inflation to maintain its value for the future. The oalition is comprised of 44 community, healthcare, social service, faith, and advocacy organizations that serve low-income families. 

The bills would also boost the parent’s earnings potential by allowing her to attend CCRI for 2 years as the sole employment plan activity. Under current law, in the second year, the parent must work 20 hours while also attending classes. A third change to current law would increase the lifetime benefit limit from 48 to 60 months. Under current law, families can apply for "hardship benefits" if they need the additional 12 months of assistance and most families do so. This creates stress for families and unnecessary paperwork by DHS staff who are already overburdened. The majority of states have a lifetime limit of 60 months or more. Federal funds from a $95 million block grant can be used for the proposed changes.
“While it's a relief that the General Assembly finally raised payment rates to families last year, our state had previously allowed this program to languish without a raise for three decades. We need to make a long-term commitment to continue to support these families. If we’re serious about having this program serve as a launch pad for independence, it needs to provide the supports parents realistically need to gain employment,” said Senator Murray (D-Dist. 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield).
Said Represnetative Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), “Rhode Island Works is a safety net for families in times of crisis, and it’s supposed to help them get back on their feet. But from a practical perspective, it isn’t giving them what they need to actually do that. For example, we’ll support parents for one year at CCRI, but not for the second year. We need them to graduate. After being ignored for so long, Rhode Island Works needs updating to better prepare parents to succeed in the workforce of today. Improving the support is a smart investment of state resources that would truly help families succeed.”
Dr. Elizabeth Lange, practicing pediatrician, chairwoman of the Rhode Island Medical Society and past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Rhode Island Chapter noted, “As a practicing pediatrician, I see the negative health effects of extreme poverty in my patients every day. The insecurity, instability and stress of poverty increases pediatric social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. Unhoused children often are unable to attend school and hungry children cannot learn. I strongly support the proposed changes to the Rhode Island Works program. By increasing and extending monthly benefits, providing unrestricted 2-year CCRI education for parents, and securing permanent cost of living adjustments we have an opportunity to lift children out of deep poverty. Children can only be our future if we support them now.”
Lucy Rios, Interim Director of the Coalition Against Domestic Violence said, “Survivors of domestic violence use this program as a lifeline to provide for themselves and their children, and the current monthly amount for Rhode Island families is just not enough. We cannot continue setting up the people who need this funding most for financial hardship and deep poverty. We must do better for these survivors and their children.”

Dr. David Upegui, science educator at Central Falls High School, focused on the impact of poverty on children’s learning, saying, "Under-educating children not only robs them of their natural talents, but it robs all of us as a society of those gifts they innately possess. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that the next stewards of the earth have the skills and knowledge they will need to solve the problems they will inherit. We must take steps to improve the economic security of our families by increasing the RI Works benefit as these bills propose while committing to nurturing the talents of all of our children regardless of their socio-economic background.

Linda Katz, Policy Director of the Economic Progress Institute, thanked the General Assembly for increasing the benefit last year and urged continued progress to improve the program that currently serves 2,700 families around the state.

“Rhode Island receives $95M in federal block grant funds for the RI Works program, and less than one-quarter is spent on the 5,000 children and 1,600 adults who rely on the program to meet basic needs. The Raising RI Coalition will continue to advocate for additional investments from the block grant to improve the current and future economic security of our children," said Katz.

The Raising Rhode Island Coalition is a group of community, healthcare, faith, social service and advocacy organizations that serve low-income families and are working to ensure that families can meet basic needs. The coalition seeks to improve the current and future economic security of children and families receiving RI Works benefits. Information for the coalition, campaign and the proposed legislation can be found at:

For more information, contact:
Legislative Press Bureau,
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457