RI Works: Are We Doing Enough for Families?

RI Works: Are We Doing Enough for Families?

Michelle Mooney

Close your eyes and let me paint an image for you: It’s dinner time. You have two children at home and you are making pasta or mac & cheese for the third or fourth time this week. Your landlord has just knocked on the door asking you for the rest of your rent which you don’t have, and you also need to put gas in your car to go to an interview. You just cannot dig yourself of this hole. This interview could be the start of it, but bills are piling up, rent is constantly weighing on you, but you just don’t know what you are going to do.


This is what every single day is like for families on RI Works. These are families living in deep poverty – not just poverty – deep poverty. In Rhode Island, we have not raised the RI Works benefit in 30 years and the average benefit for a family of three is $554. That’s longer than I have even been alive. When we compound this with the fact that families have not been able to go to work in months because of a pandemic, these families are even more vulnerable than they were before. Constantly having to worry about rent, utilities, and basic needs, RI Works families live lives full of stress and worry. 

Can you even begin to imagine what this would be like if you had to live on $554 – what decisions would you have to make? What would you have to cut out? Could you pay your rent? Gas? Electric? Car insurance? Your phone bill? The truth is that few of us can imagine this because the majority of us have never been forced to make this choice.

We need to do better by these families – by leaving them in deep poverty, we are setting them up for continued struggles and worse, setting their children up for struggle. We should be raising the RI Works Benefit to be adjusted for inflation, but the bare minimum that we can do is raise the benefit to 50% of the federal poverty level – that won’t be enough to equip these families with the means to survive, but it’s a starting point. We can still do better – need to do better. These are our most vulnerable families and I argue that by doing nothing, we are showing how little we care about them.