Gov. Peter Shumlin made headlines in January when he proposed a five-year lifetime cap on welfare benefits. But lawmakers only recently found out that he also wants to eliminate 12 positions dedicated to helping welfare recipients find the jobs they need to get off the program.
Commissioner of Children and Families David Yacovone said Tuesday that he wants to divert $1.2 million away from job-placement services for Reach Up beneficiaries and toward substance-abuse counseling for the same population. Yacovone said that even after the cuts, his agency will retain a robust in-house employment-services division.
“But what we don’t have is enough mental health and substance abuse services,” Yacovone said. “The folks that we’re asking to go to work need mental health and substance abuse help, and we haven’t been providing that.”
The cuts would phase in over two years- six positions would be gone beginning fiscal year 2014, and the remainder would disappear the year after that.
Advocates for low-income Vermonters say the proposed changes couldn’t come at a worse time. More than 700 Vermont families later this year would face a reduction in benefits, or the elimination of them altogether, if the Democratic governor’s plan to impose a 60-month lifetime cap wins approval.
According to data provided by the Vermont State Employees Association, each position slated for elimination has a caseload of 40 to 60 welfare recipients. Christopher Curtis, a staff attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, said the state ought to be ramping up job-placement services in advance of the time limits, not paring them down.
“To say that the Reach Up plan at this point is half-baked would be to suggest that the oven is even on,” said Curtis, a staunch critic of the proposed 60-month cap. “The goal of the program is to help people successfully graduate from Reach Up and get back to full and stable employment. And that’s exactly what these employees they want to eliminate are doing.”
For more on this story, check out tomorrow’s editions of The Times Argus and Rutland Herald.