This is an excerpt of the Report to the Governor from the Council on Pathways from Poverty, delivered on November 13, 2014. Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles is a member of this Council. Read the full Council on Pathways from Poverty Report.
November 13, 2014
Governor Peter Shumlin
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, VT 05609
Dear Governor Shumlin:
Poor Vermonters, including families with children, are in crisis.
People are working. Even among the homeless, those who are able hold one or two jobs. Wages are low. For those who can’t work, public benefits cover less han 50% of the cost of living. Housing is expensive and scarce. Too many families struggle under the shadow of deep trauma: violence, abuse, and sexual predation. This suffering — sometimes sharpened by mental illness and addictions — places too many at risk for harm. But the pain goes deeper than that of being hungry or cold. It’s about the desolation of being left behind.
The conditions that create poverty are many, entwined and not to be solved simply by more funding. It’s time for the prevailing silo approach to state poverty programs to give way to new, more collaborative efforts. Your Council on Pathways from Poverty has met steadily over the past year to recommend strategies that will help low-income and vulnerable Vermonters both manage and move out of poverty. Revenues are not robust and so this Council offers a menu of innovations and policy initiatives, along with the prudent, return-yielding investments needed to see them through. Our highest priorities follow; our comprehensive, longer term recommendations are attached.
- Harness the “collective impact” model to implement structured collaborative efforts that achieve real change to the problems of poverty and inequity. You have already tapped this approach to battle addictions, and communities in the Northeast Kingdom are using it to combat poverty. Use your office to bring together the disparate efforts and funding streams of state government to create integrated collaborations that will house the homeless, transport low-income workers, and create real economic development for people most in need.
- Use capital investments to grow jobs and protect and create housing. Vermont has a significant need to refurbish its existing stock of affordable housing and to create more, especially for those with very low incomes. Create good construction jobs and increase production of permanently affordable housing by providing full, statutory funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board at $17.75 million. And while interest rates are still low, preserve existing assisted housing at-risk of losing its affordability by investing in State Capital Bond funds each year for the next four years.
- Harness new resources to fight poverty by directing health care funding to housing and services for people who are frequent users of Medicaid and other health care services.
We urge you to make targeted, strategic increases to key programs that reduce suffering and harm — and promote wellness, achieve savings, create jobs, increase revenues and grow the local economy:
- Continue to build on past successes in reducing homelessness and cut reliance on motels for emergency housing by appropriating a total of an additional $1.25 million for: Emergency Solutions Grants ($400,000), the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program ($500,000), and Family Supportive Housing Program ($350,000).
- Create new jobs, build assets, and promote financial skills by increasing investments in Micro Business ($200,000) and Individual Development Accounts ($200,000); establishing a Vermont Matched Savings Program ($135,000); and funding Financial Coaching, Credit Repair and Banking programs ($175,000). These investments will restore and enhance economic opportunities for low‐income families.
- Increase Reach Up Grants. Continue working to reduce or eliminate benefit cliffs, including application of income disregards and elimination of asset tests –start by putting this year’s benefit cliff improvements into next year’s budget.
- Increase investment in Vermont’s Child Care Financial Assistance Program by raising the base rate to 50% of the current market rate, with the long-term goal of raising the base to 75% of the current year market rate and raising eligibility for the program to 300% of the federal poverty level, while mandating that rates and guidelines be adjusted annually and kept current.
- Increase investment in the Low-Income Weatherization Program, increase LIHEAP grant assistance and fully fund Crisis Fuel needs.
- Budget resources to implement the Transitional Benefits Alternative that provides 3SquaresVT benefits for five additional months to households after they leave Reach Up.
- Establish a “culture of kindness” within the Agency of Human Services and the Department for Children and Families to ensure that individuals applying for, or receiving, assistance are welcomed, well served and treated with respect.
- Separate program enforcement from eligibility determinations and service delivery, especially in the area of Child Protection Services.
- Establish an independent Office of Child Advocate.
- Establish a goal for owners of publicly funded housing to dedicate 10% of their affordable housing portfolio to homeless families and individuals.
- Complete a high-level study of transportation issues affecting low-income people that examines existing vehicle and ridership programs, public transportation, and regulations relating to fines, fees and repairs that are barriers.
- Preserve property tax income sensitivity for low and moderate income tenants by maintaining the Renter’s Rebate at the current formula level.
Thank you for inviting us to make these recommendations. We’ve included more detail in the attached report.
For the Council on Pathways from Poverty,
Read the rest of the Council on Pathways from Poverty Report here.