FOOD – WARMTH - SAFETY NET
LOW INCOME WEATHERIZATION -
VLIAC Supports maintaining funding for the Weatherization Assistance Programs at the $12 Million dollar level to maintain the current capacity for low income 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 will lose capacity in FY 2015 unless an additional $2 million dollars is allocated to the program. A sustainable funding source needs to be identified and implemented.
LIHEAP - Low Income Home Energy Assistance 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. UPDATE – The House added an additional $6 million in the FY 2015 Budget.
– VLIAC Supports reversing the restrictions passed in the FY 2014 Budget limiting the number of Crisis Fuel assist and other policy changes requiring a complicated process for LIHEAP eligible households to get emergency assistance. Last year the crisis fuel grants that a household can receive was reduced from 2 to 1 assist (for the vast majority of households finding themselves in a heating emergency), and the new laws also precludes a household with a crisis fuel emergency from being able to receive any assistance until they not only apply for LIHEAP, but have also "received" the Seasonal Fuel benefit. In the past few years 72% to 80% of the household receiving the crisis fuel grant have a vulnerable family member that resides in the home. UPDATE - The legislature did appropriate and additional $500 K in the FY2014 Budget Adjustment to address emergency needs created by the new restrictions and the exceptionally cold winter. Special Warmth funding is being requested for the FY 2015 Budget, as well as policy changes.
3SQUARESVT – Vermont Food Stamp Program
- VLIAC Supports H.620 – A bill that proposes to forgive recipients of an overpayment of food stamp benefits and address the payment error rates in 3SquaresVT program. This bill would require the State to renegotiate with the federal Food and Nutrition Service to repay the federal government for the State’s over issuance of benefits known in Vermont as the 3SquaresVT program, in years in which the State is sanctioned for an excessive payment error rate for over issuances resulting from agency error. VLIAC believes families who receive overpayments due to agency errors during years in which Vermont is federally sanctioned be held harmless and not be required to pay back benefits they no longer can afford. UPDATE – The House Human Services Committee passed out legislation that provides 100% forgiveness for recipients of overpayments in certain years, but the House Appropriations committee chose not to cover the cost to the State in the FY 2015 Budget.
HEAT AND EAT Federal Policy
-VLIAC Supports the efforts of the State to increase the minimum (nominal) payment for LIHEAP from $3-$5 to $21 to over 21,000 household in VT so they can maximize their 3SquaresVT benefit. This federal requirement will allow VT to retain over $6 million dollars in food stamp benefits that would be reduced if not implemented. The proposal would reduce the $50 for Roomers to the same $21 and then pay the remainder from LIHEAP funds that would be spread out among all recipients. UPDATE - This policy change is broadly supported and is moving forward in the Legislature.
LICENSED DENTAL PRACTITIONER (LDP)
- VLIAC Supports S.35 an act that creates the position of a licensed dental practitioner (LDP) to increase access to dental care in the State of Vermont. 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. Access to oral health is one of the most pressing needs of low income folks in Vermont. UPDATE - The Senate Government Operations voted the bill out favorably but it remains in Senate Finance, where is not expected to be voted out. The legislation has the support of many legislators, 42 organizations, but has strong opposition from the dentist.
CHILD CARE PROVIDER Ability to Organize
- VLIAC Supports S.316– 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. UPDATE – The bill has passed the Senate and is being considered in the House General Housing and Military Committee.
REACH-UP Assets and Income Disregard
VLIAC Supports H. 790 – An act relation to Reach Up eligibility This bill proposed to disregard the value of a participating family’s assets and a certain percentage of a participating family’s earned income for the purpose of determining eligibility and benefits in the Reach Up program. Making work pay and increasing earned income is a key element in anti-poverty strategies. UPDATE – The House passed out a bill that does increase the income disregard and raises the asset limit, but the bill proposes to pay for the changes by reducing Reach-Up benefits for all recipients. VLIAC Opposes this funding mechanism and is working to change the funding in the Senate to come from the caseload reduction savings.
EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE EA/GA Emergency Shelter/Housing
VLIAC Supports H.699 - An act related to temporary housing that proposes to allow participants who are eligible for temporary housing not to have to spend any of their own income on the temporary housing, but save the income to pay expenses or save for permanent housing. The State should also expand existing definitions of vulnerable Vermonters to include all children (not just those under 6) and those with disabilities with documentation (not just SSI/SSDI recipients) and include language to give the commissioner waiver authority. UPDATE - The House passed a bill that requires a 30% contribution of income instead of the 50% proposed in rules and Senate Health and Welfare is considering it.
PAID SICK DAYS
- VLIAC Supports H.208 – An Act relating to absence from work for health care and safety. This bill proposes to ensure that all employees shall accrue a minimum number of paid hours annually so they can take paid time from work to take care of their own health and safety needs and those of their families. The legislation calls also for safe days for victims of domestic violence. Studies show that universal paid sick days result in a reduction in contagion throughout the community and significantly reduce emergency room visit. UPDATE - The bill passed out of the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee and was sent to the Appropriations Committee. It is not expected to be voted out of the Appropriations Committee or by the full House this year.
MINIMUM WAGE -
VLIAC Supports H.552 –An act relating to raising the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour. The Governor had proposed a $10.10 figure to be implemented over a 3 year period. UPDATE – The House General Housing, and Military Affairs Committee passed a bill out that proposes an increase in the minimum wage at $10.10 an hour and $5.05 for tipped workers to go into effect in 2015. The Senate Committee on Economic Development wants to phase in $10.10.
EXPANDED ASSET DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
- VLIAC Supports implementing an integrated financial empowerment program for Reach-Up Families. The proposed program includes financial education, coaching, credit building and repair, savings tools and incentives, and access to mainstream banking into the Reach-Up program through a partnership with financial coaches at Vermont’s Community Action Agencies. People’s financial stability improves when they are provided with the information and tools they need to make sound financial decisions. The program would work in tandem with the existing Individual Development Accounts Program (IDA) and Reach-Up. UPDATE - No legislative action this year.
INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT ACCOUNTS (IDA)
- VLIAC Supports an Increase the Vermont IDA Program at the $250,000 level.. The IDA Program has achieved great success since the Legislature first appropriated $250,000 in the FY 2001 budget. The program has enrolled 1,199 participants, whose incomes are all below 200% of federal poverty level. These savers have accumulated over $2.1 million including savings and match in their IDA accounts and leveraged $1.2 million in federal assets. So far, 634 participants have made matched withdrawals, 373 have started or expanded their own businesses, 121 have become first-time homeowners, and 140 have pursued post-secondary education or training. The program has been level funded at a reduced level for four years at $135,300. UPDATE - No increase is proposed for FY 2015.
MICRO-BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT (MBDP) -
VLIAC Supports increased funding for the Micro Business Development Program at the $412,000 level. Since 1998, the Micro Business Development Program has helped thousands of low-to-moderate-income Vermonters explore self-employment as a path to increased household income and financial stability. MBDP has assisted with the startup or expansion of almost 400 businesses in the past 5 years. 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. The program has been level funded at a reduced level for 4 years now at $298,800. UPDATE – No increase proposed this year in the House FY 2015 Budget.
CHILD CARE SUPPORT SYSTEMS -
VLIAC Supports increasing the Childcare Subsidies to support low-income working Vermonters. The State should increase financial support for child care providers, including an $800,000 boost to providers of the highest quality care in the state, as well as an increase of $740,000 to families qualifying for assistance with child care as a result of an update of the federal poverty level (FLP). Childcare costs and availability are significant barriers to employment. Subsidies help families pay for child care so parents can increase their economic stability. UPDATE – The House passed budget adds $800K for the funding for the Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS), and $360K to bring subsidies up to the 2014 FLP.
PRE-KINDERGARDEN UNIVERSAL ACCESS
– VLIAC Supports H.270, legislation that provides access to publicly funded Pre-Kindergarten education across the State and assures that Head Start programs that qualify as private providers will have equal access to funding.
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. Transportation is a key issue for individuals with disabilities and the number one barrier to sustainable employment.
MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE DEFENSE FUNDING – Vermont Legal Aid.
VLIAC Supports VLA funding request of $100,000 per year for two years to continue to help Vermonters save their homes. The financial crisis has slipped from the front pages, many people believe that Vermont’s foreclosure crisis has ended. However, mortgage foreclosures are still at very high levels in Vermont; they remain more than 50% higher than the historical averages. Funding to handle these critical cases ends on June 30th. Clients are low-income (below 250% of FPL). UPDATE – The House budget includes $50,000 for this purpose.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING -
VLIAC Supports the creation of new affordable housing and preserve existing affordable homes for low‐income Vermonters including providing full statutory funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board at $17.7 million, working to secure additional funding to preserve existing, affordable housing developments with expiring federal funding. UPDATE – The Governor request a 9% increase; the House passed a 6% increase.
VLIAC Supports these efforts to reduce and prevent homelessness: An increase in the Emergency Solutions Grant Program from $800,000 to $1.2 million; doubling the number of families housed with the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program by increasing funding from $500,000 to $1 million; expand the Family Supportive Housing 3 county demonstration program statewide (current funding level: $400,000); Supplement Section 8 rental assistance and other federal housing funds lost due to budget cuts. UPDATE - The House approved increases of $300K for the Emergency Solutions program, $500K for Rental Subsidies and $200K for Supportive Housing.
SPECIAL NEEDS HOUSING AND SERVICES
- VLIAC Supports efforts to provide stable affordable housing and services for people with special needs to live more independently in settings they prefer, while avoiding the higher cost of institutional care including : an overall appropriation level of $735,000 for the Home Access Program, a $200,000 increase; maintaining current funding for Mental Health Vouchers at $1.42 million and level funding for Mental Health Housing Recovery and Housing Contingency Funds at $495,075 and $391,734. UPDATE - The House level funded the Mental Health programs and an overall increase in the VHCB budget would result in a proportional increase in the Home Access Program funding, if approved by the Senate.
– VLIAC Supports maintaining the Renter Rebate program and not reducing the percentage until a fairer assessment of property taxes paid by renters cost can be determined. UPDATE – The House reduced the Renter Rebate program by $2 million.
HEALTH CARE REFORM
HEALTH CARE REFORM/ EXCHAGE
- VLIAC will continue to monitor Health Care Reform efforts and the move towards a Single Payer System and how those policies affect low income people in the State of Vermont. VLIAC supports the efforts to make sure get the State’s Health Benefit Exchange works as promised, and to ensure that proposed legislative changes to Health Care provide necessary services, maximize affordability, and protects consumers.
HEALTH, WELFARE and DISABILITIES
VERMONT LONG TERM CARE OMBUDSMAN PROJECT (VOP) -
VLIAC Supports an increase of $257,483 in FY 2015 to close a $45,000 budget gap and hire 2 additional ombudsmen to address a critical need for additional staff. Total funding for the VOP has been almost unchanged in the last 8 years, increasing only by 1.8% ($11,000). The VOP serves people in long term care facilities and people receiving home and community based services (HCBS). The VOP helps these Vermonters solve critical problems that impact their health, financial security and quality of life. Sixty percent of the clients served are low income on are on Medicaid. UPDATE – The House budget allocates funds that close the VOP budget gap for FY 2015.
VERMONT HEALTH CARE ADVOCATE - (Formerly the Health Care Ombudsman)
VLIAC Supports the State keeping its commitment to funding the HCA Office appropriately to continue to fund the added responsibility assigned to the office under Vermont’s Health Care Reform. The positions created were formerly funded with federal dollars, but the State doesn’t have a funding source to make up for shrinking federal support. The gap is $193,053 for SFY 2015 and $214,327 for SFY 2016. About 50% of the clients served are low-income Vermonters. UPDATE – The House passed a Budget that partiality fills the gap in the HCA Office funding.
- VLIAC Supports efforts to preserve and increase the Tobacco Trust Fund (TTF) to ensure long-term stability of the state's Tobacco Control Program by dedicating 10% total annual tobacco tax receipts to the TTF. The State should ensure that Medicaid covers the costs of full nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for members enrolled in 802Quits. The State should smoke free housing policy by provide tax credits for affordable housing developers that include 100% the policy in proposed projects. UPDATE – Language in the House passed budget calls for future settlement money to put into the Tobacco Trust Fund.
SHARED USE FOR HEALTH
- VLIAC Supports S.13/H.122 to encourage community use of school recreational facilities This legislation would remove barriers and perceived barriers for schools to open their buildings and grounds to the community for recreational purposes by providing schools with greater protection from liability.
CHOICES FOR CARE
- VLIAC Supports the reinvestments of savings in the Choices for Care and restoration of sequester losses. The State should address the unmet needs especially of the "Moderate Needs" population and continue efforts to get premiums reduced or eliminated for VPharm 1 (under 150% of federal poverty).
HEARING AIDS -
VLIAC Supports legislation that would mandate some reasonable level of private insurance coverage for hearing aids.
DISABILITIES SERVICES FUNDING -
VLIAC Supports adequate funding for Developmental Disability Services and Community Mental Health programs as well as continued participation by folks with disabilities in any changes made to the State System of Care Plan, with values and quality assurance oversight. People with intellectual disabilities served by the Vermont’s developmental service system should be protected from abuse and neglect, have choices, and be able to be full participants in community life. The values of self-determination and community integration in Vermont’s Developmental Disabilities Act should be adhered to in related laws, regulations, policies and services provided. UPDATE - H.728 - Developmental Disability policy legislation has passed the House and is currently being considered in the Senate.