Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council
“Celebrating 42 years of representing the interests of low income Vermonters”
VLIAC - PURPOSE
The Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council (VLIAC) is a statewide Board of individuals representing the interest of low-income Vermonters in matters of budgetary and policy issues before the Vermont State Legislature. VLIAC is committed to advancing those programs and policies that promote economic security and human rights for all Vermonters. Through the Council’s advocacy, VLIAC has been giving a voice to the poor, the elderly, those living with disabilities, and low-income working families in the policy making arena of state government.
VLIAC - HISTORY - “WAR ON POVERTY”
Forty-nine years ago, in January of 1964, President Johnson called on the Congress to press forward to on what he termed the “War on Poverty.” The legislation created was the “Economic Opportunity Act” of 1964.
The act was not just an expansion of old programs, or an improvement on what was already being done, but in his words was to “chartered a new course” to get at the cause, and not just the consequences of poverty. He felt that it would be a milestone in our search for a better life for our people.
This act was to provide basic opportunities to disadvantaged Americans giving them the opportunity to develop skills, continue their education, and find useful work. The act created Offices of Economic Opportunity and Community Action Programs in every state to help people to help them, in achieving self-sufficiency. Community Action Agencies are funded with federal Community Services Block Grant funds.A few years later, the Low Income Advocacy Councils were created in some states across the nation to support the work of the Community Action Agencies, and allow every American community the opportunity to develop a comprehensive plan to fight its own poverty - and get input from the people they served.
VLIAC - STRUCTURE
The Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council (VLIAC) was organized in 1972. VLIAC's goals are to empower the poor to speak for themselves on issues that affect them. VLIAC seeks to increase the participation of low income Vermonters in the democratic process in the largest sense, and in so doing, to contribute to decision-making and policy setting in such areas as health care, housing, livable income, education, employment, government assistance, and programs. Ultimately, VLIAC works to achieve social and economic justice for low income Vermonters.
In its early years, VLIAC received staff support for its work from Vermont's five Community Action Agencies (CAAs) and from Vermont Legal Aid. Reduced funding to Vermont Legal Aid and the CAAs, as well as federal restrictions on their activities required VLIAC to find alternative financial support for advocacy in the early 1980's. In 1982, Vermont Assistance, Inc. (VAI) was organized to help assure that low-income voices would be heard at all levels of state government. VAI’s fundraising efforts support the work of a low-income advocate (lobbyist) full time during the legislative session and part time the rest of the year. VAI is co-chaired by the Rev. John Nutting, who now resides in Florida and John Shullenberger, an attorney from Jericho. The VAI board membership has representation from the Community Action Agencies, the Department of Mission United Church of Christ and other Human Services advocates and organizations.
VLIAC is a “volunteer” statewide representative board of up to fifteen members from the five community action agency regions of the state (low-income members of the CAAs local boards, from the community at large or from the community action agency staffs) and up to 3 at-large members from other organizations including a member of the UCC Department of Missions. The VLIAC Board “operations” are funded separately with small grants from the state, the CAAs, and individual contributions. The advocate takes direction from the VLIAC Board, but is employed and funded through VAI.
Funds to support the legislative advocate come from the generosity of the Community Action Agency Program Directors Association, the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, individual church organizations, businesses, other advocates, and individuals in the State of Vermont, through contributions to Vermont Assistance Inc.
At the present time VLIAC's ongoing activities include holding regular meetings at which legislative (budget and policy) and regulatory issues are discussed and priorities established for the advocate; crisis-driven advocacy at the local and state level; publication of priorities, sponsorship of an annual “Legislator and Advocate” supper during the legislative session; co-sponsorship (with the UCC) of the VLIAC Day at the Legislature. We monitor the legislative process during and after the legislative session.
VLIAC Sponsors legislation and works closely with the Community Action Program Directors, other advocates, and agencies of state throughout the year. Wetestify in legislative committees and public hearings and promote the priorities we have established. We work to inform the legislature, the agencies of state, and to a lesser extent – the general public about low-income issues (through the media). We speak for low-income folks throughout the state. VLIAC is developing our first online presence this summer through a “Neighbors in Need” Grant sponsored by the United Church of Christ Vermont Conference.
PARTNERSHIPS - REPRESENTATION
Members of the VLIAC Board or the VLIAC advocate, hold seats on the Vermont Childhood Poverty Council, the Medicaid Advisory Board, Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line, the HEAT Task Force for LIHEAP Funding, the Tobacco Control Evaluation Committee, the Vermont Women’s Commission, and/or regularly attend meetings of the Affordable Housing Coalition and the Vermont Coalition of Disability Rights, among others.
VLIAC’s advocacy has increased funding for low-income programs administered by the Community Action Agencies, for Weatherization services, Micro-Business Development, Individual Development Accounts (Asset building and economic literacy), and Crisis Fuel Assistance. In recent years, we helped avoid a proposed dramatic cut in Legal Aid services, and cuts in disability services. VLIAC helped secure a modest COLA increase, and increased advocacy in the healthcare ombudsman’s office. VLIAC also was the leading voice in assuring passage of a reasonable welfare reform bill and increasing the cigarette tax to help pay for Medicaid and VHAP programs.
Working alongside other advocates over the years, we work to maintain or increase affordable housing funding and perpetual affordability housing policies; homeless shelters and services funding. We work to lower premiums and increase access to healthcare for low-income folks around the state; for affordable access to mammograms and colonoscopies; for healthcare, and tobacco cessation programs, and dental care. We advocate for increases in the minimum wage and the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); for affordable child care; for post-secondary education opportunities and economic services benefits; and the expansion of fuel assistance program among others.
Given the economic downturn, and the dramatic cuts proposed over the past six years, VLIAC has worked to maintain the safety net of social services programs in the state for the poor, the elderly, those living with disabilities, and low-income working families in Vermont.This past year VLIAC played a key role in defeating the use of the Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit and in limiting the reduction of financial assistance for vulnerable Vermont families on Reach-Up.
Karen Lafayette, Legislative Liaison, VLIAC