THE WAY FORWARD: Social Issues

Rebecca Vallas: Economic Justice Champion

Rebecca Vallas pictured in front of a tree wearing a dark top and large, teal earrings

Rebecca Vallas 06C, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and incoming senior fellow at The Century Foundation

Rebecca Vallas has been ringing the alarm about the human consequences of bureaucratic disentitlement for years. A legal aid lawyer at heart, Vallas has spent the past decade working to shape economic justice policy across the country.

She began her formative years as a Skadden Fellow at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, where she represented low-income individuals and families in the state and later helped build and lead CAP’s nascent Poverty to Prosperity program, a national strategy to cut poverty in half. As host and producer of her weekly CAP-powered podcast and radio show, Off-KilterVallas dives deeper into lasting systemic issues of “poverty, inequality, and everything they intersect with.” 

Vallas also collaborated with her former Philadelphia colleagues in developing the “clean slate” model of automatic criminal record-clearance, which has become law in Pennsylvania, Utah, and most recently in Michigan.  

During the Trump administration, she led CAP’s efforts in protecting and defending Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Medicaid, disability benefits, and other critical safety-net programs that were under attack. One of her proudest involvements, Vallas says, is the launch of the organization’s Disability Justice Initiative, a program dedicated to examining policy issues through a disability lens. The initiative made CAP the first and only progressive think tank in the nation to have a dedicated disability project. Her most recent work with CAP is focused on criminal justice.   

In her new role with the Century Foundation, Vallas leads a policy portfolio focused on bolstering U.S. income security policies in the wake of the global pandemic. 

“Whether our social insurance and assistance systems are there for people in their time of need is a choice,” Vallas says. “And, over the course of decades, we've allowed those systems to be eroded through systematic underfunding, neglect, and years of policy choices that have made many basic assistance programs painstakingly hard to access. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make structural- and policy-level change.”

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