Reaching for Facts

To the Editor:

Governor Shumlin explains his desire to place a cap on the duration of benefits under the Reach Up program by saying that our current system does nothing to encourage people to get a job. He also claims that the cap is, somehow, part of a plan to fix the benefits cliff, stabilize our welfare-to-work program, and promote opportunity for welfare recipients.

Well, on what facts are these claims based?

If there is one program about which we should know just about everything, it is the Reach Up program. The state records should include the names of everyone on Reach Up; how long they have been on it; the age and health of the recipients; the extent and success of their efforts to find work; and the main barriers they face in finding work.

Given the state's extensive knowledge of Reach Up participants, isn't it odd that the Governor justifies his plan in generalities?

I hope that our legislators take the time and effort to gather the necessary information before deciding if this eligibility cap is justified or even wise. How many recipients will be thrown off the program under the Governor's plan? How many children? The state's most recent Reach Up report indicates that, on average, two thirds of recipients are children, and a full 49 percent of all recipients are 10 years old or younger.

The impetus for capping Reach Up appears to be a fear or belief that many recipients are simply not trying to get off the program, preferring for some reason to remain on welfare. Resorting to this stereotype of the lazy welfare queen without citation of any facts to back it up is beneath the dignity of a progressive governor and a progressive state.

In closing, I recommend that the Governor, and anyone else who thinks that Reach Up recipients are getting away with something, try the simple experiment of living for some minimal period - say six months - on the resources that program provides. Let's then see how many people think this program is a disincentive to work.

Lee Russ Bennington


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