Benefits Cliffs and Financial Gaps



Pushed to the Precipice

Self-Sufficiency Standard


Pushed to the Precipice:

How Benefits Cliffs and Financial Gaps Undermine

the Safety Net for New Yorkers


One step forward and two steps back is the phenomenon that too many working families across our city, state, and nation experience when they access safety net benefits.

FPWA’s latest investigative report, “Pushed to the Precipice: How Benefits Cliffs and Financial Gaps Undermine the Safety Net for New Yorkers,” explores the barriers working families face when striving for financial stability. It also provides recommendations to reduce the impact that an abrupt benefit cutoff can have on New York State families.

New York’s social safety net is intended to help low-income families secure necessities like food, housing, healthcare, and childcare. However, these benefits are riddled with financial gaps related to eligibility, coverage, and hardships that bar families from accessing and keeping them before they achieve financial stability.

For example, New York State’s childcare subsidy terminates when wages or income reach 200% FPL, or $43,440 for a family of three. This can trigger a devastating “cliff effect,” when a small increase in income results in a net loss – which forces families to make hard choices: To turn down the increased income or struggle with inadequate benefits and funds to pay for one of their most expensive basic needs.

“People are actually being held back by the very programs that are purportedly designed to help them move forward. The effect is to create a permanent underclass, and we, as a society, must question why this is apparently an acceptable norm,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director of FPWA. “Until we are able to say that all New Yorkers have or can access what they need to be self-sufficient without penalty, we cannot claim that we have a safety net system that is fair, just and equitable.”

You can find out what inspired this research by reading a blog by Zarin Ahmed, FPWA Senior Policy Analyst.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard

Our Pushed to the Precipice report bases analysis of benefits cliffs and financial gaps in data from “The Self Sufficiency Standard for New York,” which we released in March 2021.

The Self Sufficiency Standard provides critical data on the income needed for working-age families in New York to cover their most basic life needs, including childcare but also food, housing, transportation, and much more.

The report outlines what working-age families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet without public or private assistance in each county in New York. It is a much needed and anticipated update of ten-year-old data that can be used by New York State and local policymakers and legislators to calculate how much income is needed for genuine economic security. Find out more by reading our press release.






Follow the hashtag #PushedtothePrecipice for updated news and information about this work


Media Contact: Rachel Noerdlinger,