Letter to the editor: Invest in community programs that help the poor

Being poor is hard. Asking for help is hard. Meeting new people and navigating tough systems when you are at a low point is demoralizing. Asking for welfare to feed and house your baby makes you a failure in many people’s eyes. Systems to help people have their own challenges: the people who have, tell people who don’t have, what to do. So many people who live in generational poverty have been failed by these systems — schools, doctors and state systems. Not because they are bad or lazy or dumb, but because the systems are not made for or by them.
We live in a culture where being poor is often blamed on the individual living in poverty. This could not be further from the truth. The poorest people in our country are people of color, women and children. This does not mean that there are not poor white men. There are, but our dominant culture creates systems most readily associated with white middle class values.
The governor has proposed cutting Reach Up contracts to Parent/Child Centers (PCCs). This is a real set back for the state’s community partners and, more importantly, to families. Reach Up is the welfare-to-work program that has federal and state requirements. The contracts we hold allow PCC workers help make sure that people stay on the rolls, as it is easy to miss something and be let go from the program. PCCs have access to the computer system and the incentives and supports available to the participants in the program. Staff are trained to do necessary screening, including substance use.
PCCs are the advocates and support people for our youngest, most at-risk families. We make change happen with families. Preventing a young family from being involved with state systems for a lifetime is a cost saving. More importantly, having a family receive wrap around services and watch them grow in confidence and abilities is priceless. Uniquely in Vermont, PCCs help young families with all of these things. PCC workers help families navigate all of these systems and more — mental health, substance issues, Department for Children and Families, Economic Services Division, WIC and the Health Department, Corrections, Child Support, the medical world, courts and other social service agencies.
When a family is new to these systems, it can be overwhelming. To have to tell your story repeatedly is not good. To need a ride or to turn your phone on AGAIN, to make sure there is someone there for you when you do not have a safety net of family and friends, all this can be overwhelming. When families walk through our doors, we can help them navigate all these things. We have a home visitor who helps the family navigate all of these systems and more. Parent/Child Centers are able to meet people where they are and provide advocacy as they work to become self -reliant. Every family could use this type of support, but some families NEED an extra helping hand. Because PCCs do not have income requirements to work with us, we often have relationship with families before the family accesses state services. Having the relationship makes our work more effective with families. Trust is important when people feel vulnerable.
Let’s help Vermont families who are struggling with poverty by investing in the community programs that can help them. Do not cut the funding due to declining enrollment; put more money in their monthly stipend and support the agencies that help them navigate the state systems. Now is the time to invest in Reach Up, not cut it. We have fewer people enrolling for assistance and low unemployment while at the same time, Vermont also has more women and children living in poverty. Let’s invest our money now and save in the future. Let’s keep investing in families and in our communities. Please keep these contracts with the PCCs.
Donna Bailey
Co-Director, Addison County Parent/Child Center

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