Encouraging Savings for Public Benefit Recipients, a Win for Families and States


According to the Census, approximately 52 million people in the US are caught in a bind – needing some form of means-tested government assistance, but also not allowed to save or build the very assets that allow them to safely move off public benefit programs.  Cash welfare, food assistance, heating assistance and other public benefits require recipients to have few or no assets. These “asset limits” are a relic, especially given that programs now focus on quickly moving individuals and families to self-sufficiency, rather than allowing them to receive benefits indefinitely.

In this webinar, participants heard findings from three new research studies that explored asset limits and family balance sheets. We discussed how these policy changes affected participation in public benefits, specifically Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We also discussed how policy changes to asset limits have impacted recipients' ability to save long-term.

Speakers included:
  • Leah Hamilton, MSW, Phd is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Appalachian State University. Her published work includes individual development accounts, long term incentives in the TANF program, the relationship between financial capital and personal wellbeing, youth financial literacy, and the intersection of poverty and intimate partner violence. Her work primarily focuses upon the ways in TANF asset limits prevent low income families from gaining financial stability. Her recent work investigates the relationship between TANF asset limits, caseload size, and savings among low income families.
  • Caroline Ratcliffe is a senior fellow and economist at the Urban Institute. An expert in the asset building and poverty fields, she has published and spoken extensively on the role of emergency savings, poverty, and welfare programs and policies. Ratcliffe testified before the US House Committee on Agriculture and the District of Columbia’s City Council on implications of persistent child poverty. She also provided testimony to the US Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee on closing the racial wealth gap. Her research has been published in academic journals and cited in elite media outlets, including the New York TimesWall Street Journal, and the Economist. She holds a PhD in economics from Cornell University.”
  • Clinton Key is the research officer for savings and financial security at The Pew Charitable Trusts. The project conducts original research that explores when, how, and how much American households save, examines how savings are used for financial security, and evaluates the potential of programs and policies to improve the financial situation of Americans. In leading this research portfolio, Key develops and implements rigorous data collection and analysis strategies to create a better understanding of household saving behavior and the role of savings in people’s lives. As a primary spokesman for the project, he presents findings to diverse audiences, including policymakers, across the country.

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