- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - More than 800 needy families with disabled adults will keep their current level of financial assistance for two more months after a class-action lawsuit from Vermont Legal Aid.

Vermont Legal Aid, which provides civil legal services for the needy, and the state agreed Friday to prevent proposed cuts to Reach Up, Vermont’s welfare-to-work program, for August and September.

Reach Up was cut by $1.6 million during the most recent legislative session. The cuts were scheduled to go into effect this week and would have reduced monthly assistance payments by $125.

In their lawsuit against the Agency of Human Services in July, Vermont Legal Aid claimed the policy deprives those affected of due process and equal protection of the laws.

“We think people should have the right to a hearing before their benefits are cut,” Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, told the Rutland Herald on Monday.

In a complaint filed July 23 in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Curtis said the reductions are not applied equally.

“At a time when public figures routinely complain Vermonters cannot afford higher taxes, this new policy acts as a ‘poor tax’ levied on Vermonters who are least able to afford it,” the complaint states. “Such a policy is discriminatory on its face, picking and choosing among types of families with disabilities.”

A representative for the Agency of Human Services said Monday that it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Vermont Legal Aid and the attorney general’s office will now be able to file additional briefs with the court as they prepare for the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the proposed cuts, according to Vermont Public Radio.

Curtis said he expects the next hearing to be held in September.

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