Family Resource Simulator

Since 2003, the National Center for Children in Poverty has produced the Family Resource Simulator (FRS), an online, interactive data tool ( The first of its kind, the FRS brings together data and policy expertise to improve state public benefit systems that may fall short in supporting low-income families’ economic mobility. To date, the FRS tool has contributed to policy changes across fourteen states that have improved the economic security of millions of low-income people

The FRS allows users to assess the impact of eligibility rules and benefit amounts provided by comprehensive packages of public benefits on family budgets, tailored to specific family situations and geographic locations. The FRS contains data for (1) public benefits available to lower-income families, including federal, state, and county/city social safety net programs (e.g., Medicaid, childcare subsidies) and tax credits targeted to lower-income families (e.g., the Earned Income Tax Credit), and (2) families’ expenses, including county/city specific costs of meeting families’ basic needs (e.g., housing, healthcare, childcare) and tax burden (e.g., federal/state income and payroll taxes and state/local sales tax). 

The FRS arms decisionmakers with information about barriers to economic mobility within public benefit rules, such as cliff effects (i.e., large losses in supports due to small wage increases); interactions between eligibility rules that lead to unanticipated losses of benefits; and gaps in supports that trap families in poverty. The FRS has been used by program administrators to test the impact of new legislative or administrative rules before implementing them and by advocates to show how policy changes will hurt or help working families. Legislators and program administrators have used FRS-informed analyses to enact new policies and public benefit rules that better respond to the needs of working families. NCCP is currently developing an FRS application aimed at assisting low-income families to strategically navigate public benefit programs. 

How the FRS Changes Policy: 

Video of FRS Impact and Partners 

FRS From Programming to Policy Change 

Growing Pains: How Benefit Cliffs Can Derail Government Support

Addressing Benefit Cliffs with the Family Resource Simulator

FRS Impact on Policy: 

The Family Resource Simulator: Two Decades of Impact 

Family Resource Simulator Policy Impact Case Study 

Through our Family Resource Simulator projects, NCCP works with state partners to identify state-specific solutions as well as federal reforms.  

Current and Recent State Projects 

Funder: Schmidt Futures
State Partner: Opportunity Calculator
Year: 2021

New Jersey
Funder: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
State Partner: New Jersey Policy Perspectives and New Jersey Citizen Action
Year: 2021

New Hampshire
Funder: New Hampshire Department of Employment Security and NH Department of Health and Human Services
State Partner: EConsult Solutions, Inc., New Hampshire Department of Employment Security and NH Department of Health and Human Services
Year: 2020-2021
(1) Constraints on New Hampshire’s Workforce Recovery: Impacts from COVID-19, Child Care and Benefit Program Design on Household Labor Market Decisions:
Full Report
(2) Microsite report from NCCP’s partner, EConsult Solutions, which features town and county dashboards
(3) New Hampshire’s ‘Cliff Effect’ Initiative homepage

Funder: Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS)
State Partner: Kentucky Center for Statistics (KYSTATS)
Year: 2020 

Funder: The Alliance for Early Success
State Partner: Connecticut Association for Human Services
Year: 2019

Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
Funder: Pro bono through general support provided by Annie E. Casey Foundation
Partner: Allegheny County Department of Human Services
Year: 2019
Publications: (1) Modeling Family Budgets, Decision-making, and Policy Reforms Using the Family Resource Simulator, Presented at 2020 RECS Conference, (2) “Determining marginal tax rates, benefit cliffs, and impacts of policy changes using a hypothetical family approach.”, Presented at 2019 APPAM Conference

Washington, DC
Funder: District of Columbia Department of Human Services
State Partner: District of Columbia Department of Human Services
Publications: (1) Technical Manual; The District of Columbia Family Resource Simulator, (2) Updating basic needs budgets to incorporate the impact of nontraditional work, pre-K, and afterschool programs, Presented at 2018 RECS Conference

Funder: Anonymous donor through Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
Partner: Colorado Center on Law and Policy
Publications: Making Work Supports Work Colorado

Funder: Anonymous donor through Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
Partner: No official partner
Publications: Making Work Supports Work Florida

Funder: Anonymous donor through Wellspring Philanthropic Fund
State Partner: Policy Matters Ohio
Publications: Making Work Supports Work Ohio

National and Regional Projects  

Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
NCCP is currently under contract with the Atlanta Fed to support the development of a benefit rules database, which includes policy codes and policy variables for federal rules and state variations in CCDF, SNAP, Section 8, Medicaid, ACA subsidies, TANF, LIHEAP, Head Start, federally-funded meal programs, and federal, state, and local tax credits.
Year: 2020 

US Department of Health and Human Services, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)
Study Title: A Model Effective Marginal Tax Rate Calculator for Families and Caseworkers
Contractor (or Intramural): Manhattan Strategy Group
Year: 2019

The recent Family Resource Simulator analyses have grown out of the Making Work Supports Work projects, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 


Heather Koball, Co-Director

Seth Hartig, Project Director

Suma Setty, Senior Research Associate