An extreme makeover is in the works for Vermont's welfare program known as Reach Up.
"We know this is going to cause uncertainty and anxiety and we know poverty is not friendly by any means," said Dave Yacavone, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Children and Families.
Right now Vermont is the only state that does not place time or dollar limits on Reach Up services. This week Governor Shumlin called for a cap. His plan would allow the 6,000 families using the benefits to be eligible for a maximum of five years. After the first three years, recipients would be removed from the program. They would then need to take a year off before being eligible for a fourth year. They would need to take another 12 month break to be eligible for a fifth and final year of Reach Up.
"It creates a powerful incentive and it allows people, it helps them I believe, because they'll be able to go to work sooner with the childcare supports," Yacavone said.
Yacavone said boosting state aid for childcare by roughly 20-million dollars will make working payoff. Now many parents benefit more financially by not working and collecting welfare than they do if they get a job. "Sadly for people, they go to work and they're worse off than they were beforehand -- that's not the way our program should be designed," he said.
But a number of folks on the front lines helping Vermont's neediest families say the proposed limitations are no good. Christopher Curtis with Vermont Legal Aid says folks staying on welfare indefinitely is not a problem in Vermont, but argues some people need assistance longer than others.
"There's churn in any public assistance benefits program. So people come on to the program and they get the assistance they need, they go off the program, a few years might go by and they need assistance again -- that's why we have a safety net program," said Christopher Curtis with Vermont Legal Aid.
Curtis said the solution to getting Vermont families out of poverty should not include kicking them off public assistance. "We would rather see more work on the front-end removing barriers to employment which we agree with the governor on we need to do more on transportation and affordable housing," he said.
Right now Vermont spends roughly 38-million dollars a year on welfare programs. Yacavone argues the reforms could slash that total by 8-million dollars. "I think we'll see much more turn over than we did previously," he said.
If legislators approve the plan it could go into effect this October.
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