Rebecca Vallas is the Managing Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress (CAP), where she leads anti-poverty policy development and analyses and manages the team's policy and advocacy work. She also produces and co-hosts TalkPoverty Radio, a weekly radio show and podcast devoted to poverty and inequality.
Vallas began her social-justice oriented work early in life. As an undergraduate at Emory University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Vallas founded Take Back the Night, a student-run alliance for sexual assault prevention. She also volunteered in rape crisis centers where victims were frequently women facing financial hardships. This insight into the plight of economically disadvantaged women helped Vallas realize how crucial effective legal resources were to navigating the complex systems the women faced.
The realization led Vallas to attend law school at the University of Virginia, where she focused on poverty law. Shortly after graduating, Vallas received a Skadden Fellowship to work directly with poor and low-income individuals and communities as a legal aid lawyer at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. There, she worked primarily with people with disabilities facing legal problems involving income assistance, Medicaid eligibility, long term care and aging, as well as wrongful denials of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income.
After working as a legal aid lawyer, Vallas served as the deputy director of government affairs at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), where she worked to preserve and strengthen Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income for workers with disabilities. She also served as a co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force, and built the SSI Coalition for Children and Families.
"Rebecca Vallas is a thoughtful and effective leader among advocates for low-income individuals and people with disabilities,” said Ben Veghte, Vice President for Policy at the Academy. “Her rare combination of policy expertise, entrepreneurial drive and coalition-building savvy has enabled her to shape the course of public policy in critical ways, particularly in the area of disability policy."
At the Center for American Progress, Vallas manages a team that is committed to dramatically reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in the United States. Her team focuses on developing and advancing antipoverty policies that raise wages, put education and training within reach, strengthen critical social insurance programs, ensure that parents can balance work and caregiving, remove barriers to opportunity for people with disabilities, invest in high-poverty communities, and overhaul our nation’s criminal justice policies to ensure that a criminal record is not a life sentence to poverty for justice-involved individuals and their families.
A core part of Vallas’s work at CAP is an effort to change the narrative around poverty and dispel the common misconception that the 47 million individuals living below the poverty line in the United States are a stagnant class. “The truth is that for most of us, poverty is a common lived experience, not a lifelong identity,” said Vallas. “More than half of all Americans will experience at least a year of poverty or of teetering on the edge of poverty during their working years. That number rises to 4 in 5 when you include a year of unemployment or needing to turn to the safety net. That’s significant given that the national conversation on poverty sounds much more like ‘us vs. them,’ with ‘the poor’ viewed as some class of ‘others’ living on the wrong side of the tracks. The reality is that we should all be invested in a system that helps us manage the messy ups and downs of life and do away with the pity-charity model of antipoverty work. We should all be invested in an economy that works for everyone—including a robust social insurance system.”
Vallas has appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera America, and CNN, appears on national and local radio programs, and is frequently cited in print and online media. She regularly testifies before Congress and is the author of numerous briefs and articles on poverty, income security, disability, and criminal justice policy, including a recently published report titled The Effect Of Rising Inequality On Social Security that received national attention for its finding that, if not for rising income inequality over last decade, the United States’ Social Security trust funds would be $1.1 trillion larger. The report described how excessive inequality not only takes a toll on American families’ economic security, but also on the financial health of the nation’s bedrock social programs.
Vallas was elected to the Order of the Coif and the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Emory University. She was awarded a Skadden Fellowship and a Borchard Fellowship in Law & Aging during her time in legal services. She is the inaugural recipient of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association’s New Leaders in Advocacy Award, and was twice named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for Law & Policy in 2011 and 2014. An active member of the Academy since 2012, Vallas was a speaker at the 29th annual conference, Strengthening the Web of Financial and Retirement Security for Today's Working Americans. During her free time, Vallas sings with CAP’s competitive karaoke team, “Vocal Opposition,” which took second place at the District Karaoke Citywide Championships this year.