Legislators this session acknowledged that Reach Up recipients who get a bigger paycheck may face "benefits cliff" and passed a law to try to cushion the fall.

The bill, which squeaked through in the final hours of the legislative session, provides two changes advocates say will make a big difference for families working their way out of poverty.

The bill increases the amount Reach Up families may earn from a job before their government benefits shrink. It also increases -- from 12 months to 24 months -- the length of time a family coming off Reach Up qualifies for a child care subsidy.

The new benefits won't cost additional money, state officials say. It will be paid for with savings from a declining number of people receiving Reach Up benefits.

Current law allows families to exclude the first $200 they make, plus 25 percent of their earnings before benefits begin to decrease. The bill increases the amount to $250.

The bill is the result of a study produced last year by a working group that was commissioned to look for ways to improve Reach Up.

The new law essentially amounts to a 4 percent raise for a single head-of-household meeting the program's work requirements, according to Vermont Legal Aid.

Advocates said that next year they will push for a bill that will increase the amount families can have in savings from $2,000 to $5,000 and retain their benefits.



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