Opponents portray the cut as a poor tax that plunges Vermont’s neediest deeper into poverty.
“If you are taking a bird’s eye view of the budget, I can see how all these cuts look the same,” said Nicole LeBlanc, advocacy director at Green Mountain Self-Advocates, during a Statehouse news conference Wednesday. “But for hundreds of mothers with disabilities and their children, this is a new financial strain on their household.”
“Once again, we have balanced our state budget on the backs of those who are least able to pay,” LeBlanc added.
The Reach Up cuts were imposed in August for adult family members who also receive Supplemental Security Income, a federal disability benefit.
The cuts have affected roughly 860 households, or 15 percent of Vermont families that receive cash benefits through Reach Up.
Ed Paquin, executive director of the group Disability Rights Vermont, pointed Wednesday to declining enrollment in Reach Up as proof the program helps lift people out of poverty. He said the $4 million net savings from reduced Reach Up rolls should be reason enough to repeal the cuts.
Advocates say the cuts — a $1,500 annual income reduction for each family — don’t take into account the many costs for families with disabilities, including specialized equipment and assistance services.
The Reach Up cuts save the state around $1.6 million a year.
Paquin said he is hopeful the midyear budget adjustment being crafted now will provide an opportunity to reverse the policy, which he said “will drive some of our state’s poorest, and least able to work citizens, further into poverty.”
A federal class action lawsuit filed last summer by Vermont Legal Aid claimed the cuts unconstitutionally discriminated against people with disabilities.
In November, the law’s constitutionality was upheld. But in his decision, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions expressed disappointment over the policy.
“The law at issue in this case targets one of the most vulnerable populations in Vermont: disabled adults raising children in poverty,” Sessions wrote. “In an effort to achieve budgetary savings the Legislature has voted to decrease public aid to those families, resulting in what can only be further hardship for parents as they struggle to provide food and shelter for their children.”