Vermont’s Congressional Delegation Hails Poverty Index Freeze

. . .Action Will Stabilize Benefits and Eligibility For Vermonters

WASHINGTON (Saturday, Dec. 19) – Congress on Saturday wrapped up its work on the federal budget by sending a defense appropriations bill to the President that will also protect federal safety net help for low-income Vermonters.  As the House and Senate worked to wrap up work on the must-pass budget bill, Vermont’s congressional delegation pushed for the inclusion of a poverty level index freeze, along with an extension of COBRA health care benefits and other temporary remedies added to the defense bill.   

Without this action, the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) index – now frozen at 2009 levels through the end of March – would have been set to fall to a lower level on January 1, 2010.  A reduction in the FPL would have brought a decline in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits, as well as the elimination of Vermonters on the upper range of the low-income scale to be dropped from Vermont’s Medicaid and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) programs.

“This is a common sense step that means relief for many low-income households in Vermont,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and of its Defense Subcommittee that wrote the bill.  “As the country begins to climb out of a deep recession, this will help bridge the gap for many who are still struggling day to day just to make ends meet.  It would be ludicrous to cut off this basic help for some, just as many more are applying for assistance.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “As we face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, with more than 17 percent of Americans unemployed or underemployed, it would be a tragedy if the federal poverty level were lowered.  The essential services provided to the Americans most in need – the unemployed, those living in poverty, young people who cannot find a job – must not be curtailed.  We need to protect the millions of American families, and the many thousands of Vermont families, by freezing the poverty line, by extending unemployment insurance, and by assuring that food stamp benefits continue.”

Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said, “Throughout our state, hardworking Vermonters are struggling to provide for their families during this time of great economic hardship.  As we work to create new jobs and restore our economy, we must remain focused on providing critical safety nets for low-income Vermonters.  Freezing the poverty level index is a necessary step to ensure that those hardest hit by this recession can support their families.”

The House of Representatives passed the bill on Wednesday and the Senate approved it on Saturday.  The bill now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it.

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