Story: Joyelle got an education, a job, and a promotion. She never expected her success would mean this. . .
Joyelle never expected to be a position where the very system she thought was a safety net ultimately failed her.
After fleeing an abusive relationship, this single mother of four ended up in public housing in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Until that point, Joyelle had never relied on welfare for help. She always paid her rent on time and made ends meet. So, falling back on public housing was an entirely new scenario for her. It was not where or how she wanted to live, or where she wanted her four children to grow up.
That’s why she was determined to get back on her feet. She graduated from school and was offered a full-time job with the state of Georgia, a career trajectory that put her above the poverty line. Things were looking up.
“I was excited and grateful,” Joyelle says. “I had worked hard: I started out with the state as a student assistant and worked my way up.”
Falling over the benefits cliff
But that’s when Joyelle got a shocking surprise: Due to her new salary, her subsidized housing allowance disappeared and she was forced to pay almost $1,000 a month in rent.
“I was heartbroken,” she says of learning that she was losing her housing subsidy. “You work hard. They tell you to go to school and get a job. You do all these things, and you’re still not able to provide for your family. That’s devastating. I suffer from anxiety. It causes stress. It causes severe depression.”
She now faces the difficult decision of looking to move but being unable to afford apartment rent even with her salary increase.
Hindering upward mobility
Joyelle encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to not qualify for services, but not enough to make up for the services lost in extra income. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.
“There’s no help for people like me, stuck in the wealth gap,” Joyelle shares. “You have help, but if you help yourself you’re faced with adversities that you shouldn’t be faced with.”
We believe that these services should move people into a prosperous life, not keep them stuck in cycles of dependency. Visit welfarecliff.org to learn more about ways to end benefits cliffs so that more Georgians can prosper.