Advocates urge Vermont lawmakers to distribute unspent CARES Act funding to low-income households

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MONTPELIER – In December, the Vermont Legislature will have to decide what to do with any unspent CARES Act relief funding, and over a dozen advocacy groups are making it clear how they’d want it to be spent.

The Food Insecurity Coalition and the Reach Up Coalition say that many of Vermont’s lowest-income households have been left out of State and Federal relief efforts, and have faced difficulties in accessing the $1200 Economic Impact Payments sent out in April. The coalitions believe now is the time to make good by issuing paper checks to Vermont families living in poverty.

“It feels like a no-brainer for us to distribute those extra funds, if there are any, straight into the hands of families that will spend them in their community, spend them on strengthening their kids’ situations,” said Michelle Fay, Executive Director of Voices for Vermont’s Children.

The organization is one of fifteen groups calling on the Legislature to help low-income families on Reach Up, a financial safety net program for Vermonters living in property.

It’s a program some believe was underfunded before the pandemic hit, so enrolled families didn’t have a lot to lean on.

“Basically, if you’re on the program, the State decides what a subsistence amount of money per month would be to help you meet your very very basic needs, and because of the lack of investment in the program, families are getting about a third of that,” Fay said.

In July, the Legislature set aside $85 million for the housing needs of low-income and homeless Vermonters, but Day and other advocates believe the roughly 4,000 reach up households across the State require an additional $10 million.

If there’s more than that left in unallocated CARES Act funding, advocates want it to go to the estimated 38,000 3 Squares Vermont households. Reach Up households are also enrolled in 3 Squares.

“Families don’t have to apply for it, they don’t have to have access to internet or fill out a request form, this would be a direct assistance that would come in the form of a check to families,” said Faye Mack, Advocacy and Education Director for Hunger Free Vermont. “The idea has a lot of potential, it’s very simple and streamlined.”

Mack said the checks are particularly crucial at this time because key assistance programs launched early in the COVID-19 pandemic like the Vermont Everyone Eats Program might not be around much longer.

“These new temporary programs are all set to expire,” Mack said. “There are programs like 3 Squares Vermont that are here and have been here for people to tap into, but as people are facing economic challenges they haven’t faced before, that’s not going to get them all the way.”

CARES Act funding that goes unused by the State would be sent back to the Federal Reserve. Advocates say the most equitable way to distribute funding to Reach Up households would be based on the number of children in each residence.

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