Lately, Governor Shumlin has depicted his proposals for education, child care, and welfare reform as an indivisible package: you take away one piece, and the rest falls apart. The obvious reason for this tactic is that parts of his plan have proven deeply unpopular, despite his repeated efforts at salesmanship.
There are two items that have drawn the most fervent opposition: Shumlin’s plan to cut Vermont’s share of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by almost three-quarters (with the savings earmarked for improved access to child care), and the proposed five-year lifetime cap on Reach Up benefits.
Subscribers to the Mitchell Family Organ will find bad tidings for both, in an article by Prolific Pete Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau. It’s mainly about Reach Up, but to me, the biggest single piece of news concerned the EITC cut:
House Speaker Shap Smith all but declared the reduction in the EITC dead Friday, saying, “I would not anticipate it is going to be a major part of any bill that will come out of the House.”
Artfully worded, but pretty damn definitive. Buh-bye, EITC cut.
The news regarding Reach Up actually comes from Maine, where far-right Governor Paul LePage (R-Teabag) imposed a five-year cap on the same program — which, in Maine, is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The cap took effect on June 1 of last year; and a new study shows that it’s had the predictable effect:
The median monthly income of families that lost assistance was $260, or $3,120 per year – less than 20 percent of the federal poverty level.
Nearly 70 percent had visited a food bank, more than one-third had their phone, gas or electricity shut off, and another 17 percent reported running out of heating fuel. Nearly 15 percent of families surveyed were either evicted or lost their homes, and more than 9 percent ended up in homeless shelters.
Plus, for those more concerned with the bottom line than the human impact, the Maine Sunday Telegram reports that the TANF cap has actually caused an increase in government expenditures for the poor. The burden has simply been shifted from TANF to General Assistance and other emergency programs.
After the jump: Shumlin’s inadequate reply.
Shumlin Administration officials say the Maine study is irrelevant to Vermont’s situation, because they plan to boost child care and get more social workers providing one-on-one help to Reach Up recipients. It’s true that the Shumlin proposal isn’t as mean-spirited as LePage’s,* but there are still big problems.
*There’s a good crisp definition of “damning with faint praise.”
First, as noted above, the improved access to child care is far from a sure thing. If the EITC cut is dumped, the Legislature will have to find child-care money somewhere else — or kill that proposal as well.
Second, child care is only one of the barriers to work. Indeed, according to a recent VTDigger story, the average Reach Up recipient in line to lose benefits under the Shumlin plan faces 3.7 barriers to work. Those include lack of education, lack of transportation, and problems with emotional or physical health, as well as child care.
Third, the social-work infrastructure that provides guidance to Reach Up clients is still recovering from a disastrous “reform” program launched by the Douglas Administration which centralized the system, cutting way back on one-to-one contact and relying far more on call centers and the like. (Im doing some research on this, and hope to have a full diary on the subject in the near future.) The result is that Reach Up clients have had a lot less individual guidance than they used to.
Shumlin proposes to boost the number of case workers and get them back to serving individual clients. But one has to wonder (a) if that funding proposal will survive the legislative process, and (b) even if it does, how quickly can the system be brought up to where it needs to be? The lifetime cap would take effect on October 1; how much enhanced guidance will recipients really get by then?
The Maine study is not 100% relevant to Shumlin’s Reach Up plan, but it can’t be completely dismissed, which is what Shumlin officials are trying to do. And it’s clearly one more piece of bad news for a proposal that was already in trouble.