"This is about the moral direction of our state"--St. J parents speak out against Reach Up cuts and call for a People's Budget

This testimony was read by Martha Aguilar to the House Committee on Human Services representing a group of Reach Up parents from St. J who came to the Statehouse on February 6th. Sindy, Ashley, Starr, Amber, Delani, Martha, and Charlotte all came to tell their legislators that the budget must not be balanced on the backs of the poor by cutting Reach Up, but that we must have a budget process that fulfills all our human rights and raises money equitably:  

My name is Martha Aguilar. I am a single mother of four and a Reach Up participant. I live in St. Johnsbury. I joined Put People First because I want a better life for my kids and because I don’t believe anyone should have to go without fundamental rights like housing, heat, healthcare, and education. I am going to read a testimony that is from our whole group.

In the Governor’s address he says “extending welfare to workbenefits without interruption for a lifetime does nothing to actuallyencourage people to get a job. What is far more troubling is that weactually penalize Vermonters who want to earn more money and get a jobbecause we reduce their childcare and other benefits.”

We want to start by debunking some of the myths and assumptions in whatthe governor says...To us he makes it sound like people are staying on Reach up because its easier and better than having a job. We wanted to tell you a little bit about what our lives are like on Reach Up--­Charlotte gets $462/ month after her lot rent and car payment she is left with $10 for daipers, utilities, and everything else. Sindy gets $665/ month rent is $500 not including heats and light. Delani gets $660/ month. Her rent is $400, she pays another $100 in insurance and then the rest is supposed to cover gas, daipers, cleaning supplies, medication and her kids needs. Ashley gets $610/month, Amber gets $535, and Starr gets $505­­ for each of them over half of that is already gone after just rent and utilities. I myself get $680. After paying my $550 of rent I have $130 left to coverlights, phone, clothing, personal needs, and everything for me and my kids. We all work 20- ­40 hour/week at a worksite. This ends up being something like $3/hour. Ashley, who is in our group, often says that it is basically like modern day slavery. Its a struggle to get by every single day. Reach Up is NOT a walk in the park.

If the governor is saying that people are staying on Reach Up, because its better than having a job, to us that shows that we need better employment opportunities, not worse Reach Up.

We also want to talk about some of the serious and systemic barriers that we face in getting off of Reach Up and finding jobs. First of all, the truth is that there just plain aren’t that many jobs. All of us have applied over and over again and we’re still unemployed. Even if one of us is lucky enough to find a job, chances are we arenot getting paid very much. In Reach Up’s own Annual Report from 2012, almost a third of people who found jobs were making less than $9/hour. Only 4% of people made more than $13/hour. The livable wage for a single parent with two children is $28.58.

Let’s say you can find a job­ for many of us, we don’t have trasportation to get to that job. 3 out of 7 in our group don’t have a car at all, the rest of us who do have cars often find ourselves without enough money to put gas in the tank. If we find a job, Reach Up can arrange transportation for 2 weeks. After that we’re on our own, and you will likely see us back at the Reach Up site because we lost the job when we couldn’t get a ride.

Another huge barrier is childcare. 5 out of 7 of us are single mothers. This means that if we find a job that doesn’t fit into the hours when childcare is available we can’t take it. Many of the jobs we can get­--food service, home care, etc.--are shift work that includes nights and weekends. Also, as single parents, if our kids get sick and we can’t send them to childcare we have to stay home. Amber, who you met, was actually fired from her job at McDonalds, and ended up back on Reach Up because she had to stay home with Jasmine.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “the perscription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis for the disease.” Clearly the Governor has the wrong diagnosis of what the problem really is, and therefore his prescription is also wrong. We can not end poverty in Vermont by just kicking people off of Reach Up. We are not going to go away. And we will not be able to do better, until we change the system that keeps us in poverty. We are here today to ask you to make sure that these attacks on the poor don’t go through, but also to ask you to make long term systemic changes about the way we do our budgeting process.

Last year our campaign helped pass a law that states “The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in away that advances human dignity and equity." and "Spending and revenue policies will . . . recognize every person's need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment." If we really want people to be getting off of Reach Up we need to keep moving in this direction­ we need to make college accessible to every single person, we need public transportation, universal healthcare, safe housing for all, and we need to create livable wage jobs in our communities the provide these public goods. This is not just about a cap on Reach Up. This is about the moral direction of our state. Do we want to be know as the state that leaves its own in the cold, OR do we want to be the state that Puts People First.