Over the Edge: An Analysis of the Implications of Benefit Cliffs Within Wisconsin Public Benefit Programs

In Wisconsin, many families working to move out of poverty and toward self-sufficiency face benefit cliffs – circumstances in which increases in income do not compensate for losses in benefits from state and federal programs. While many state agencies have studied means-tested program cliffs individually, few have looked across departments to see how these programs interact and create or temper cliff effects for Wisconsin families. This report uses eligibility and enrollment data from several public benefit programs to understand how and where cliffs emerge for households receiving support from various combinations of programs. The authors then provide recommendations regarding how to improve interdepartmental data collection and collaboration for mitigating these multi-program cliffs. Further, this report examines what other states and regions have done to combat benefit cliffs and recommends ways that the client, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, can leverage this information to better support low-income families.


  • Course: Spring 2020 Workshop in Public Affairs, PA 869, taught by Timothy Smeeding
  • Authors:  Jessica Rutstein, Patrick Duffie, Ronald Steinhoff, Samantha Fredrickson, Hayley Young, Grace George
  • Client: Wisconsin Department of Children and Families

Download PDF