Alexander Ruder
Director and principal adviser
Community and Economic Development
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Ellyn Terry
PhD student
University of Washington

Discussion Paper 2024-1
May 2024

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For some workers, career advancement and higher pay can trigger a loss of means-tested public assistance. Workers may struggle to plan for that loss due to the complexity of public assistance rules and a lack of projections about their income and expenses. The Atlanta Fed designed the Career Ladder Identifier and Financial Forecaster (CLIFF) tools to help workers make more informed financial decisions about job training and employment in the context of public assistance loss and paying for basic expenses such as housing, childcare, and health care. This discussion paper presents the findings from a two-year study of CLIFF implementation by 23 organizations in 13 states. Through the analysis of interview and focus group transcripts, we find three overarching themes related to implementation: 1) identifying the appropriate population of users for CLIFF; 2) integrating CLIFF into existing organization operations; and 3) integrating CLIFF into coaching sessions. These themes along with the associated subthemes suggest ways that organizations can more effectively incorporate public assistance calculators into existing financial and career coaching contexts.

JEL classification: I38, J08, J24, J62

Key words: benefits cliffs, human capital, skills, provision and effects of welfare programs, effective marginal tax rates

Comments to the corresponding authors are welcome at The views expressed here are the authors' and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.