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Mitigating the Benefits Cliff

WHAT IS THE BENEFITS CLIFF? The Benefits Cliff (or Cliff Effect) is a condition in which a pay increase results in a net loss of combined income and benefits.

The Benefits Cliff occurs because many public benefits instantly stop at a given income threshold. Once a participant crosses the threshold, benefits plummet to zero. There is no gradual phase-out.

For many benefits, the income thresholds are set by the Federal Poverty Guidelines. Food and Nutrition Services, for example, abruptly terminate when recipients earn more than 200% of the guidelines.

Benefits Cliff Community Learning Groups

The Benefits Cliff community learning groups were launched in November 2019 at a community meeting that was collectively organized by the Assets Building Coalition, the Winston-Salem Foundation, Forsyth Futures, the Department of Social Services, and others. Attendees at that event were invited to participate in a learning group that would focus on one of three pathways to address the negative effects of the benefits cliff in Forsyth County — nonprofit solutions, employer solutions, and policy solutions. The learning groups would work together to create testable ideas that could be implemented using available funding.

Each group met in person five to six times between January 2020 and the suspension of the work in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups ranged in size from 7 to 14 people at each of those meetings. Each of the three groups had multiple members who were recruited based on their lived experience with the Benefits Cliff (nearly 50% of group members for two of the groups.) Not only were the groups composed differently than most work groups, the groups were intentionally facilitated to center those with lived experience and foster a culture of learning and inclusion among individuals working together in new ways.

Benefits Cliff in Forsyth County Microsite

In 2019, the Asset Building Coalition launched an innovative community collaboration to elevate awareness and spark community dialog around the Benefits Cliff. A core component of this effort is an educational microsite built by Forsyth Futures, designed to inform local stakeholders on the conditions around this complex issue.

Forsyth Living Wage

What is a Living Wage? A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet his or her basic needs. 

Living wages benefit workers, employers, and our local community at large.

The living wage movement is based on the premise that wages should keep workers and their families above a minimum standard of living. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not changed since 2009, leaving many workers struggling to make ends meet. Workers in Forsyth County with salaries at, or even slightly above minimum wage, are forced to make difficult choices each day, such as buying food or paying rent, filling a prescription or the gas tank. If these workers earned a living wage, rather than the legal minimum of $7.25 per hour, many would be lifted out of poverty.

Benefits of a Living Wage


Attracts potential employees


Lowers employee turnover


Boosts employee productivity


Improves morale, attendance, and customer relations

Lifting pay boosts the our local economy.

States that have raised their minimum wage are adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not. And low-wage workers tend to spend nearly every dollar they earn for goods and services closer to home. Every extra dollar going into the pockets of low-wage workers has the potential to add even more to the regional economy.

Forsyth Living Wage Employer Certification Program

In the Fall/Winter of 2021, The ABC will launch the Forsyth Living Wage Employer Certification Program, which will recognize local businesses and organizations who pay a locally-calculated living wage of $14.64 per hour, or $12.76 per hour with health insurance (these were calculations in 2019).

Program Goals


Recognize local employers who pay their workers a living wage


Provide employers with an incentive to pay a living wage


Create community recognition and support of living wage employers


Increase local awareness of wage inequality


Promote a local living wage movement by working to certify more employers.

We will begin certifying Forsyth Living Wage Employers in Fall/Winter 2021. If you have questions or are interested in applying, contact us at [email protected].

We will begin certifying Forsyth Living Wage Employers in Fall/Winter 2021. If you have questions or are interested in applying, contact us at [email protected].

Financial Capability Best Practices

What are Financial Capability Best Practices? As a community, it’s important that we provide the highest-quality financial capabilities services possible to support the financial wellbeing of our residents. The ABC provides professional development, training, tools, and resources to support financial educators in Forsyth County in adopting best practices.

Do you want to become certified as a best practice provider of financial capabilities services in Forsyth County?

If you are a designated person with authority to represent your business or organization, simply contact us and a member of our certification team will follow up with you. If you have questions about the application or process, contact us.

Certified Financial Capabilities Service Providers

A list of local Certified Financial Capabilities Service Providers is coming soon! In the meantime, contact [email protected] with questions or opportunities.

Asset Poverty Advocacy

What Asset Poverty Advocacy? Advocacy in general is public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. In this case, Asset Poverty Advocacy means a collection of efforts and strategies that we pursue, together with our members, to address some of the root causes of local asset poverty. This work involves building public will to influence policy and funding decisions at the local, state, or even national level.

Asset poverty is a community-level issue that requires a coordinated, community-level response. 

Our Advocacy Committee worked in 2019 to meet with leaders of organizations (whose work connects them with Asset Poverty) from across North Carolina to understand their advocacy platforms, how they approach the work, the adaptive challenges they’ve faced, and how they facilitate and communicate with community stakeholders.

In 2019, the Advocacy Committee met with:


Prosperity Now


The North Carolina Justice Center


The National Disability Institute


The North Carolina Asset Alliance


The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

The Forsyth County Advocacy Agenda for Asset Poverty, 2021

This inaugural advocacy agenda outlines strategies and opportunities for advocacy activities at the grassroots / local, state, and national levels. It focuses on specific actions that individuals, elected officials, service providers, and institutions can take to begin to shift policies and priorities toward systemic solutions for asset poverty.

Catalyst is our highest advocacy tier. For issues designated at this level, the ABC will take the lead as a local champion:


  1. Benefits Cliff
    1. Child Care Subsidies 
    2. Housing Choice
    3. Food/Nutrition
    4. NC Medicaid
    5. Work First

For issues designated to the Participant tier, the ABC will join with other partners as an active member to develop strategies that influence policy:

  1. Reform of municipal fines/fees

For issues designated to the signatory tier, ABC may take a public position to support or oppose policy in this area, lending our name to an effort:

  1. Student Loan Debt
  2. State Earned Income Tax Credit
  3. Medicaid Expansion

Contact [email protected] for more information.