Rep. Rey Garofano: Improving the Vermont Reach Up program with H.464

MONTPELIER — One of the driving factors of my decision to submit my name to replace our state representative when she stepped down in December 2021 was the desire to make government work better for the most vulnerable Vermonters.

As a state employee for over 16 years, I have firsthand knowledge of the complicated systems and bureaucracies that Vermonters in need must navigate to get the help they need. The red tape and time wasted by well-meaning government programs were highlighted in an article titled The Time Tax in the Atlantic by Annie Lowery, a staff writer who covers economic policy.

Reach Up, administered by Vermont’s Department for Children and Families, was established in Vermont nearly 20 years ago and is Vermont’s version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Reach Up helps families with children by providing temporary cash assistance for necessities and other services that support work and self-sufficiency. Services include job placement and training, child care, and services that address childhood trauma and build resilience.

Let’s imagine a family that participates in Reach Up. A single mom of two with an infant who has special needs, and a toddler, unable to find affordable high-quality child care. She does not have access to public transportation or access to a car. She can’t work due to the lack of child care and transportation. She can’t keep up with paying her rent, is confused about the benefits available to her, and does not know where to turn for help.

The Vermont Reach Up program will provide this family with financial assistance, case management that will connect them to services, and help with job training and placement.

H.464, an Act Relating to Miscellaneous Changes to the Reach Up Program, takes a step in making government work even better for Vermonters and reducing the time tax for approximately 3,400 families that participate in Vermont’s Reach Up program. This bill will allow the family in this example to keep more of their money, reduce duplicate processes, and will strengthen the current practice of case managers working with families in a collaborative way that focuses on goal-setting.

Specifically, the statute would update the Reach Up program in the following ways:

1) Allowing participating families to keep more of their earned income to both encourage work participation as well as improving the families’ ability to meet their basic needs and improving supports for children.

2) Establishing a universal engagement process that focuses on collaborative goal-setting. Often, systems of support can realize measurable success if families are asked about their needs. The families’ engagement in goal-setting and working toward a goal can be much more successful in the long term rather than punitive program requirements.

3) Removing duplicative processes to save time.

4) Allowing both participating parents’ to achieve higher education.

These updates reflect current program practice and modernize the law to be consistent with research on best practices, simplifying the program for both the participating families and the program workers, leading to a collaborative approach where participation and engagement are essential to the participants’ success.

This is why I support H.464 and hope we can continue to improve and simplify the systems in government to save time for the most vulnerable Vermonters.

The original article on VTDigger can be found here:

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