By DAVE GRAM | The Associated Press
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin’s plan to cut a key welfare-to-work program by limiting the amount of time people get benefits will increase poverty and homelessness, advocates and beneficiaries said Thursday.
“It’s not only an attack on low-income parents, mostly females, but it’s an attack on children,” said Shela Linton, a mother of two who got benefits while working as a waitress for minimum wage and attending college.
Shumlin, a Democrat, defended his plan to put time limits totaling five years over a lifetime during which someone would be eligible for a monthly check from the state’s Reach Up program — three years initially, with later periods counting toward the balance if needed.
Shumlin has angered many advocates for low-income Vermont residents with his proposal to fund increased child care subsidies with cuts to the earned-income tax credit program, which provides benefits to about 44,000 low-income working households.
He said on Thursday that his proposals have a unified purpose: to help people finding it difficult to enter the workforce due to a lack of affordable, quality child care so they can go to work. “What we’re proposing is a new, smarter and different system that says to people we’re not going to any longer have a welfare for life,” he said. “We’re going to ask you to get a job. We’re going to help you get a job, and when you get a job we’re going to change the rules (to provide expanded child care subsidies).”
The change in Reach Up would save the state $6 million a year, but advocates speaking at a news conference on Thursday said it would end benefits for 1,200 households as of Oct. 1.
“It is a bridge out of poverty for Vermont families,” Vermont Legal Aid lawyer Christopher Curtis said. “Why would we take this bridge we’ve built and blow it up?”
Curtis pointed to a report issued 13 months ago by the state Department for Children and Families that urged against imposing time limits on Reach Up benefits.
Shumlin said he endorsed that report, saying it would be “cruel” to cut benefits for families without expanding child care subsidies. But he argued that since his plan is to increase those subsidies and make more families eligible for them, there was much less justification for having no time limits on a program that was meant to be temporary while recipients looked for work or went to school to develop job skills.