The authors examine federal public benefits programs and discuss their role, alongside other programs, in delivering relief to affected workers and communities and helping them to thrive in a low-emissions future. While public benefits programs are not designed for energy transitions, they can be the first line of defense for struggling individuals and communities. As such, the authors recommend preserving and expanding public benefits programs to complement other, more tailored policy measures.
The authors assess existing federal programs and policies that distribute resources to smooth economic volatility and guarantee a basic level of security, health, and well-being for individuals and households. They group public benefits programs into two general categories based on eligibility criteria: social safety net programs and industry-specific benefits. Within each category, they assess the effectiveness and relevance of existing programs in the context of just transitions.
Based on this very detailed analysis, the authors share eight insights that can help inform policy to support communities affected by a long-term shift away from fossil-fuel energy. They conclude that social safety nets can contribute to fairness for fossil-fuel communities in transition despite their limitations when it comes to replacing income from employment. In addition, despite their ability to contribute to communities’ well-being and economic stability, they find that industry-specific benefits remain unsustainable in the context of industry decline. They then recommend reforming bankruptcy rules to help minimize moral-hazard risk, as well as other reforms that could increase budgets for industry-dependent programs in the context of just transition.