VLIAC 2013 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
“Celebrating 41 years of representing low income Vermonters”
VLIAC is committed to empowering the poor to speak for themselves, and to speak for these who cannot. VLIAC believes that it is our responsibility to bring the needs of lower income Vermonters to the forefront of the Legislative agenda.
This year the proposed 2014 budget presents extraordinary challenges for low income people and those individuals and families still struggling to get by in these tough economic times.
The State has been through 6 years of State budget cuts, through a “Great Recession”, and recovering from Tropical Storm Irene. Our childhood poverty rate has increase by 50% in a decade and the looming federal budget situation is uncertain and could mean more cuts.
At the same time, this state is experiencing dramatic increases in need for safety–net programs like LIHEAP, General Assistance, Crisis Fuel and Reach - Up to name a few. People currently on Vermont low income health programs are facing significant increases in their out of pocket cost as these Vermont programs end, and people are required to go into the federal Health Care Exchange.
The administration has termed a number of these human services budgets as “unsustainable” and proposed a budget that targets the poor and low income through tax increases, reductions in benefits, and increased cost, for those of us who can least afford it.
VLIAC Supports fairer budget and tax policies that recognize the basic human rights and needs of low-income families, the elderly, people with disabilities and the most vulnerable among us. Spending and revenue policies should reflect the public policy goals established in state law and recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social and economic security, and a healthy environment.
We need to get at the root causes of poverty and invest in those programs that work. We need to remove the barriers to gainful employment; we need jobs, we need affordable housing, we need education and training, childcare and transportation, and we need supports for struggling Vermonters who want to work and those who need assistance.
The Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council’s priorities this year focus on those budget and policy matters that address the issues of employment and poverty in a comprehensive way; that protect the safety net for the most vulnerable among us; that invests resources in the programs that work to the benefit of all Vermonters, and those that reflect our ideals, values, and obligations.
VLIAC Selected 2013 Legislative Budget Priorities
Protect Vulnerable Families on Reach Up: VLIAC opposes arbitrary time limits on Reach Up benefits. The State should take a comprehensive look at benefit cliffs and barriers to employment and make the necessary investments and improvements before any changes to Reach-Up are made. The Reach Up program is successful at helping low-income Vermont families move from public assistance to employment or educational advancement. The elimination of financial assistance will put children at risk and force a cost shift to other State programs.The Governor proposed a 36 month time limit starting in October of this year, with no financial assistance for families. The House passed a budget that includes a 60 month time limit, with exceptions, and financial assistance for children only.The Senate Health and Welfare Committee called for a “timeout” on the proposal to put time limits on Reach-Up.
Invest in Child Care Support Systems. VLIAC Supports increasing the Childcare Subsidies at the levels proposed by the Governor ($16.7 million), to support low-income working Vermonters, but Opposes using the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to fund it. Childcare costs and availability are significant barriers to employment. Subsidies help families pay for child care so parents can increase their economic stability through work and training or education.The House funded the childcare subsidies at only a $3.3 million dollar increase, but rejected the use of the EITC.
Maintain the State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) current levels. VLIAC Opposes using the State Earned Income Tax program to fund other necessary low income programs. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal credit available primarily to working families with children. It reduces the family’s income tax liability and recognizes that Vermonters can be working full time and still struggling to make ends meet. The EITC is a fair tax policy that benefits working Vermonters and helps low income families meet their basic needs or build assets. The Governor proposed using the Vermont EITC to fund the childcare subsidies, reducing the VT EITC program by two thirds.
Protect Full Access to Affordable Health Care Options, including dental coverage for low-income Vermonters. VLIAC Supports a State subsidy to cover the gap for people insured through VHAP and Catamount who face increased out-of-pocket costs under the new health care exchange. The increased cost to 20,000 current VHAP and Catamount participants and a potential 20,000 more subscribers will once again put Healthcare out of Reach for Low Income Vermonters. The House put $4.3 million dollars in additional State subsides, but there is still a 10 million dollar gap in coverage.
Maintain Legal Services for low income Vermonters. VLIAC Supports increasing the State appropriation to Vermont Legal Aid to replace lost funding and increased need. There has been an increase in in mandated legal Service for “Right to Counsel” cases made much more difficult with the abandonment of the State Hospital after Irene and clients located around the State. The “General Civil Legal Services to the Poor” telephone intake system calls for assistance have increased by 40%. The State has level funded the VLA Budget for FY 2014, but VLA has lost federal and other funds. VLA is requesting $200,000 to cover part of this deficit. The House increased VLA funding by $125,000.
Protect Funding for Programs for People with Disabilities. VLIAC Supports adequate funding for Developmental Disability Services, Choices for Care, and community Mental Health programs and continued participation by folks with disabilities in any changes made to the State System of Care Plan. The $2.5 reductions through “policy changes” proposed by the Administration have not been identified and language proposed limits the ability of folks with disabilities to participate in the decisions being made in their system of care plans.The House added language that creates a work group to identify any “savings” that could be achieved, and to avoid across the board cuts if savings cannot be achieved.
Enhance Transportation for Employment Opportunities. VLIAC Supports efforts to expand Vermont's public transportation options, including a unified (state-wide) approach to sub-contracting and support for both medical and non-medical needs. This concept area requires legislative support to unify the varied regional contracts and to regulate the criteria for use and public support. Transportation is a key issue for individuals with disabilities and the number one barrier to sustainable employment.
Increase Funding for Low-Income Economic Development Programs, including Individual Development Accounts and Micro-Business Development Programs. These successful anti-poverty programs are level funded at 2012 reduced levels.
VLIAC Supports an Increase the Vermont IDA Program - Fund at $250,000 The IDA Program has achieved great success since the Legislature first appropriated $250,000 in the FY01 budget. The program has enrolled 1,199 participants, whose incomes are all below 200% of federal poverty guidelines. These savers have accumulated $2,183,180.86, including savings and match in their IDA accounts and leveraged $1,215,050 in federal Assets. Thus far, 634 participants have made matched withdrawals, 373 (58.8%) have started or expanded their own businesses, 121 (19.1%) have become first-time homeowners, and 140 (22.1%) have pursued post-secondary education or training.The House chose to level fundthe program as proposed in the FY 2014 budget at $135,300.
VLIAC Supports Increased funding for Micro Business Development Program – Fund at $412,000 Since 1998, the Micro Business Development Program (MBDP) has helped thousands of low-to-moderate-income Vermonters explore self-employment as a path to increased household income and financial stability. Over the past 5 years alone, through intensive counseling and training, MBDP has assisted with the startup or expansion of almost 400 businesses. These efforts produced over 475 new full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, and leveraged more than $5 million in business capital for participants. MBDP is a key investment in a successful anti-poverty program. These new jobs will come at a time when many Vermonters struggle with a lack of employment options, and will go to the Vermonters who most need them. The House chose to level fund the program as proposed in FY 2014 at $298,800.
Maintain current funding for the LIHEAP Program. VLIAC Supports finding sustainable State funding to supplement the Low Income Heating Assistance Program and cover any federal reductions. The State should sustain LIHEAP benefits at current levels and raise appropriate revenues to replace reduced federal funds with State dollars to keep seasonal fuel benefits intact. Any funding source considered should mitigate the increased cost to low income consumers. The House has put an addition $6 million in the Budget to supplement federal LIHEAP funds.
Invest in Low Income Weatherization Program. VLIAC Supports increasing the capacity for low income Community Action Weatherization Programs to reduce energy costs for low-income families by improving the energy efficiency and comfort of their homes while ensuring their health and safety. The Weatherization Trust Fund provides state funding for weatherization through a one-half percent gross receipts tax on all non-transportation fuels and electricity sold in the state. The Weatherization Program has maintained its increased capacity with the utility merger funds for FY2014 but the House did not raise any new revenues to sustain that capacity after the next fiscal year.
Increase General Assistance Housing. VLIAC Supports the GA budget of $8.3 million and an appropriation of up to $1.5M for Emergency Housing Assistance. The GA budget should include increased funding to the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program to $1M, providing Emergency Housing to vulnerable populations (not only those in "catastrophic" situations,) and adding families with children that are at risk of homelessness as a result of losing Reach Up in the definition of "catastrophic”. The House increased the GA budget as proposed by the Governor, but put only $1million in motel assistance.
VLIAC Selected 2013 Legislative Policy & Revenue Priorities
Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax: VLIAC Supports a penny per ounce on sugar sweetened beverages to reduce obesity, to help low income folks understand better nutrition choices though funding obesity prevention and education efforts, to provide funding to subsidize the purchase of health foods, and to raise revenues to provide greater access to healthcare by funding the gap in out of pockets cost increases for VHAP and Catamount participants through the healthcare exchange.This tax would provide about 24 million in revenues. The House considered, but rejected this tax.
Cigarette and Tobacco Products Tax: VLIAC Supports tobacco tax increases when revenues are dedicated to specific programs that help low-income Vermonters. Cigarette tax revenues used to ease health care costs for low and middle income Vermonters and to support cessation and prevention services make this a progressive tax, and not regressive tax. A significant increase in the cigarette tax is the single most effective way to keep kids from smoking and prompts smokers to quit. VLIAC Supports increasing funding for the state’s tobacco control program and protecting the Tobacco Trust Fund for future tobacco control efforts. Revenues from the Tobacco tax and related products should be used for cessation programing and health related initiatives. The House passed a 50 cent per pack increase and the Senate is considering a $1.25 increase. The tax could raise $16 million.
Creation of a Licensed Dental Practitioner (LDP): VLIAC Supports legislation adding a new dental practitioner (LDP) to increase access to dental care in the State of Vermont (S.35). The scope of practice for this licensed dental practitioner includes both restorative and preventative care. The LDP would work under general supervision, be licensed by the Board of Dental Examiners, and be required to pass a comprehensive competency-based clinical exam before practicing and complete continuing education courses each year. Access to oral health is one of the most pressing needs of low income folks in Vermont. Testimony was taken in Senate Government Operations; no other action taken.
Child Care Provider Ability to Organize: VLIAC Supports S.52, a child care provider organizing and collective bargaining bill. The legislation would allow home-based child care providers caring for children whose parents are eligible for or receive payment from the Child Care Financial Assistance Program, to negotiate with the state on issues the state controls, such as child care subsidy reimbursement rates and procedures, and other terms of their employment. Currently, there is a 40% turnover rate in child care providers in the state. Average annual salaries are $18,000. Vermont families need affordable and available quality child care, and the development of a stable early education workforce. The bill is still is still being discussed after failing to gain support in one Senate committee.
Expand Affordable Housing Initiatives. VLIAC Supports the Administration’s funding request for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). VLIAC Supports the efforts by the State and Legislature to expand Vermont's available stock of affordable and accessible housing, increasing both the number of appropriate rental units and purchase units available.
VLIAC Supports the “Blue Spruce House” Model of Transitional Housing for Women. This model would be a therapeutic community for women who have become involved with the criminal justice system. The program would address their problems with addiction and barriers to employment. This concept is being explored as an alternative to incarceration, as well as a transitional housing model.
VLIAC Supports the FREE School Lunch Program - H.60. Under the proposed legislation, the state of Vermont would reimburse schools for each reduced price lunch, allowing Vermont schools to provide a free lunch to each low-income student. The House passed H.60; the bill is currently in the Senate.