Is it possible to be worse off because of an increase in the minimum wage? In some cases, the answer is yes. Shira* is a home healthcare aide. She’s a divorced mother with three children. Her wages went up from $13.65 an hour to $15 an hour this past January, due to the increase in the minimum wage in New York City. That should have been good news. As a result of the minimum wage increase, she’s making $235 more per month. The problem is that while New York adjusted the minimum wage, it did not adjust the maximum earnings. So Shira lost $505 in SNAP (food stamps) benefits – meaning that her overall income went down $270 per month. “The minimum wage was meant to help low-income New Yorkers. However, in some cases, it’s actually costing them money. That is the “benefits cliff,” and Met Council, as the largest Jewish charity serving the poor, is committed to fighting it on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers,” explained David G. Greenfield, CEO of Met Council on Jewish Poverty.
That’s exactly what David Greenfield and Met Council did. They organized, lobbied, and spent the last six months fighting on behalf of low-income New Yorkers. Last Friday morning, all of their efforts bore fruit when at 6:45 a.m., in a historic move by the New York State Legislature, a law was passed to form a task force to find solutions to the “benefits cliff.” Many low-income New Yorkers who are at risk of losing their benefits will be greatly served by this legislation. When Met Council first learned of the “benefits cliff” problem from a number of their clients, they worked hand in hand with Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, who introduced this Benefits Cliff bill in their respective houses. The bill will have a long-lasting impact on the lives of the hundreds of thousands of working poor in New York.
“This is something that only Met Council can do,” said David Greenfield. “While serving over 225,000 New Yorkers in need each year, we come across every conceivable issue. We literally help tens of thousands of people access benefits each year; that’s how we saw the “benefits cliff” first hand. It’s so demoralizing to learn that some New Yorkers are actually losing money because of the minimum wage. That’s why we set out to fix it.”
Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein passed the first bill in New York that seeks to fix the “benefits cliff” on the issue of Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and championed the cause of low-income New Yorkers. In this case, tens of thousands of teenagers who were working in the summer through the SYEP program saw their families’ incomes go up and were inadvertently causing their families to lose benefits.
Greenfield also took the time to thank Assembly Member Helene Weinstein, Chair of Ways & Means, for her leadership in passing this legislation, and Assembly Members Marcos Crespo and Andrew Hevesi for their support, as well. “We literally had the backing of dozens of elected officials. I’m especially grateful to them and to our JCC heads, Met Council staff, and young leadership cabinet – all of whom came up to Albany to lobby on behalf of this bill. We could not have done this without their support.”