Success for Single Mom of Two Meant Experiencing the “Cliff Effect”

Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect from I-News on Vimeo.

Watch the full documentary “Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect” at https://vimeo.com/68246853. The Cliff Effect report is an extension of “Losing Ground,” ( http://www.inewsnetwork.org/losingground )the I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS report released in January 2013 and published and broadcast statewide by more than two dozen media sources.

Jeannett Escarcega has first-hand experience with what it means to suffer the “cliff effect.”

That’s what happens when even a minor raise in family income can lead to the termination of a work support benefit, leading to what often is a big net loss for the family involved.

The cliff effect is one reason that federal reforms in 1996 to “end welfare as we know it” haven’t worked as well as they might. The reforms were designed to help families join the workforce and ultimately achieve economic self-sufficiency, but the rules can thwart those closest to that goal.

In Escarcega’s case, she gave up two part-time jobs to accept a job earning $14 per hour as a customer service representative. And that was too much money to continue receiving food stamps worth $500 per month for her family of three, including sons Antonio, 9, and John, 4. She also initially lost Colorado Child Care Assistance, although she has since been reinstated with a parental fee that costs her $350 per month.

She is considering going back to part-time and reclaiming her work support benefits. But that can be a dead end, too.

“Just not having C-CAP (child care assistance) was a struggle every day to have someone who could watch my children after school or before school,” she said. “I hired my niece to watch my children. That did not work for very long. I had to find another family member and another family member. So it was a struggle every day to figure out who was going to watch them.”

The loss of food stamps also hurt. With them, she had $500 per month for food. Without them, her food budget shrank to $200, which was not enough. She has subsidized her higher income with credit cards to make up for the larger loss of benefits, in itself a problem.

For Escarcega, the struggle with the better paying job and reduced benefits has become overwhelming.

“I cry on my way to work,” she said, “I cry on the way back home. Instead of them seeing what mommy is going through, I don’t show it to them. I don’t show it to nobody. It’s all behind closed doors.”

Most advocates of reforming the work benefits rules suggest phasing out benefits as incomes rise, rather than sudden termination. Their case is explained in the Rocky Mountain PBS documentary, “Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect.”  More is also available in a special I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS report.

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