June 18, 2014

Removing barriers for working families – H.790 becomes law

Posted in Events, Lund Early Childhood Program (LECP), Reach Up tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:31 pm by Lund

Governor Shumlin signed Vermont House Bill H.790 into law today at the O’Brien Community Center in Winooski to the applause of working families and agencies that work to support young people in becoming self sufficient.  The bill makes changes to the time frame during which people previously on Reach Up can still receive benefits after becoming employed.  This will ease the stress of those facing the possibility that working might leave them worse off than when they were receiving benefits – a situation referred to as the ‘benefits cliff’.

Governor Shumlin praised the bill in front of an assembled crowd which included many clients and staff members from Lund.  “We need to make sure we have a system of assistance that doesn’t put barriers up for people who want to work but find that the benefits system punishes them if they take a job or a raise.  What this bill really does is try to fix what we call the benefit cliff.  It tries to fix the system for folks who are given a job or who are excelling at work and are offered a raise.   Everyone wants to work, to succeed, to support their family and we need everyone in right now.  What this bill allows is for us to remove the barriers from raises and from work for people who want to work and want their kids to go to quality child care while they do.”

Governor Shumlin addresses the crowd

Governor Shumlin addresses the crowd, “Everyone wants to work, to succeed, to support their family.”

The key changes are outlined below:

1.  Earned Income Disregard – The amount of income that will be disregarded  when discerning whether someone is eligible for benefits will increase from $200 plus 25% of wages per month to $250 a month plus 25% of wages.

2. Enhanced childcare services financial assistance program – Eligible working parents will now receive full childcare subsidy for 24 months after gaining paid employment instead of 12 months.  This change is tied into the Reach Ahead program which gives assistance to families who are no longer eligible for Reach Up.

3.  Transitional SNAP benefits – Eligible participants moving off Reach Up due to paid employment will receive SNAP benefits for 12 months instead of 6 months.

4.  Case management – Case managers will be called on to work with families any time there is a change that will affect them to make sure that they have access to full benefits.

Chris Curtis from Vermont Legal Aid who worked on this legislation related the changes to real life for working families.   “This bill is about making work pay for Vermont families and it’s all about securing a healthy future for Vermont kids.  Let me tell you what this means in real terms for an average Reach Up family of a single mom with two kids.  It’s going to amount to a 4% pay increase or about $40 extra a month.  Working families have been falling further and further behind.  This legislation puts more money in their pockets and makes it easier for them to get ahead and succeed.  The goal of this legislation is successful families and a good start for kids.”

Reach-Up Case Manager at Lund, Danielle Gingue, sees the immediate benefit of these changes,  “I think continuing the time that families are eligible for Reach Ahead is huge.  I have many families that are scared for their grant to close, knowing that they are only eligible for a 1 year childcare subsidy.  With this new bill, families will be eligible for a 2 year childcare authorization.  Childcare is expensive and having a 2 year period where a participant doesn’t have to worry about their eligibility is pretty big.”

The changes in this bill will reduce the number of families facing the benefit cliff.  As Lund’s Learning Together Coordinator Tammy Santamore says, “These changes provide a greater incentive to employment than the current Reach Up system, essentially providing low income families with a buffer to better plan for financial independence and self sufficiency. The passing of this bill will allow families to plan more for their futures, allowing them to develop savings plans, address emergency expenses without the need for assistance from community service providers, and look toward a brighter future for themselves and their children.”

Or as Governor Shumlin said, quite succinctly, in his opening remarks, “This is a good bill.”

Catch up on media coverage here:  Pete Hirschfeld on VPR      FOX 44

Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women, Tiff Bluemle, Governor Shumlin, Barbara Rachelson - Executive Director of Lund and Chris Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid.

Executive Director of Vermont Works for Women – Tiff Bluemle, Governor Shumlin, Barbara Rachelson – Executive Director of Lund and Chris Curtis of Vermont Legal Aid.

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