Allies at Voices for Vermont’s Children are strong advocates for increases to the state’s safety net program for families living below the poverty line. The Reach Up program works to improve the well-being of children by assisting adults in moving towards sustainable employment while supporting families’ basic needs. Allies at Voices for Vermont’s Children use outcome impact data and work in partnership with coalitions and the state agencies to increase eligibility and outreach for the program.
Progress for Economic Justice and Security
Vermont’s Reach Up program is funded by the federal TANF block grant and the state general fund. Demands across the Department for Children and Families put pressure on the budget and as Reach Up caseloads declined, funds were shifted to other priorities, leaving Reach Up program eligibility tied to 2008 standards of basic needs. The family assistance program was not fulfilling its original goals of providing support for low-income families who face significant barriers to employment. Advocates worked hard to build traction and support in the state legislature. After only one previous cost of living adjustment in the past two decades, this legislative session advocates secured an increase to the basic need standard that represents about a 16% boost in support to families – the largest increase since the program began. “There is still a significant gap between resources available to the lowest-income families and a basic subsistence income. Even with the increase, cash supports and other safety net programs fail to lift children out of poverty” Michelle Fay, Executive Director – Voices for Vermont’s Children.
Additionally, Voices and their partners pushed for language stating that any unused amount during FY22 will be distributed to families in the program as a one-time payment. Vermont allies used a real-world family budget to illustrate the impact of Reach Up.
Voices for Vermont’s Children developed a robust coalition of partners in the past few years. In 2021, coalition partners and community members worked together to build testimonies to increase the basic needs standard and defeat additional budget cuts. Voices for Vermont’s Children believes it is crucial to find the right messenger to testify in front of the state legislature. With support from Alliance Rapid Response, Voices for Vermont’s Children partnered with NCSL to host a legislative briefing on the impact of Reach Up. Additionally, the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities provided research and data support that was well received by the tripartisan legislature. The combination of the new elevated voices from the coalition and TA lead to the state legislature voting in favor of strengthening the Reach Up Program.
“The information that NCSL and CBPP provided about both the national landscape and the impact we can make in Vermont by moving kids and families out of poverty was a catalyst for decisive action.”
Michelle Fay, Executive Director
Voices for Vermont’s Children
Voices for Vermont’s Children built momentum for economic justice through this advocacy approach paired with consistent messaging. These allies will continue efforts to ensure that Reach Up will meet families’ basic needs for the well-being of Vermont children.