Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Making Work Supports Work

The goal of the Making Work Supports Work project is to help policymakers create a work support system that enables all full-time workers to provide for their families and ensures that earning more always improves a family’s financial bottom line.

Low wages mean that millions of parents work full-time, year-round and yet struggle to provide even minimum day-to-day necessities for their families. Government “work supports”—such as earned income tax credits, child care subsidies, health insurance, food stamps, and housing assistance—can help. These benefits encourage, support, and reward work, helping families close the gap between low wages and basic expenses.

In practice, however, few families receive all of the benefits for which they are eligible, and even multiple supports are often not enough to enable working families to make ends meet. Moreover, work supports are typically means-tested, and families tend to lose benefits before they can get by on earnings alone. In some cases, small increases in earnings can trigger sharp reductions in benefits, leaving families no better off—or even worse off—than before. In short, working more doesn’t always pay.

Through Making Work Supports Work, NCCP explores these policy challenges and works with state partners to identify state-specific solutions as well as federal reforms. Our work draws on results from two innovative web-based tools: the Basic Needs Budget Calculator and the Family Resource Simulator. The Budget Calculator shows how much families need to cover a basic budget without the help of work supports. The Simulator shows how work support policies can affect families' ability to make ends meet, by modeling both existing policies and potential policy reforms.