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Low-Income Households Get Reprieve From Looming Benefit Cuts

More than 800 low-income households have gotten at least a temporary reprieve from reductions in welfare assistance that had been scheduled to take effect this week.

Lawyers for the state of Vermont have agreed to postpone the benefit reductions for 60 days while they prepare for a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the proposed cuts.

Vermont Legal Aid filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of the approximately 860 affected households, which would have seen monthly benefit reductions of up to $125.

"We are very pleased that our clients and other affected beneficiaries can expect to receive their regular benefit amounts for August and September," Sandy Paritz, Poverty Law Project Director at Vermont Legal Aid, said in a written statement. "These families are already experiencing severe economic distress and cannot afford to lose a dime.”

The case centers on households that include people with disabilities. State officials plan to save $1.6 million next year by reducing welfare benefits, known as Reach Up, to households that receive disability payments from the federal government. Monthly benefits from what’s known as Supplemental Security Income hadn’t previously been counted by the state as household income. 

But money from the program will now be used in the calculation of state Reach Up benefits. And the policy change will cost households as much as $125 a month in lost assistance

The suit alleges violations of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Vermont Legal Aid had asked a federal court judge to issue an injunction stopping the reductions, pending the outcome of the case. The state last week voluntarily postponed the reductions for 60 days.

"Our goal is to stop this benefit cut , this 'poor tax,' from harming low-income families with disabilities who cannot afford it," Christopher Curtis, staff attorney for Vermont Legal Aid, said in a release.  "This temporary agreement will come as a welcome relief.”

According to Vermont Legal Aid, the court ordered additional briefing on the issues relating to the request for preliminary injunction by August 31, and a return to court in early September.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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