Anti-Poverty advocates say they have a way to help end homelessness for the price of a cup of coffee. That’s just one of the new initiatives released today by Governor Shumlin’s Council on Pathways from Poverty. The plan would create a $2 per night occupancy fee to generate $12 million in new revenue to pay for anti-homelessness and other affordable housing solutions, along with a host of other recommendations to reduce poverty in Vermont.
“If we’re serious about ending homelessness we have to raise new revenue,” said Linda Ryan, co-Chair of the Council. “We’re seeing increases at our shelter and the cases we’re dealing with are getting more complex for Vermonters with mental health challenges or addictions,” she said. “The time to act is now… we can’t afford to wait,” said Ryan. Ryan said the report recommends increasing rental subsidies, and restoring $400,000 for mental health vouchers, and investing in other proven community programs to reduce homelessness.
Other new ideas could make a dent in poverty without costing taxpayers. “Inability to drive is a poverty trap,” said co-Chair Christopher Curtis, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid. “We want Vermont drivers back on the road safely, legally and affordably by reforming our traffic fine system,” he said. Approximately 22,000 Vermonters have suspended drivers licenses for inability to pay traffic fines. Hundreds of Vermonters have taken advantage of “Driver Restoration Day” events to pay reduced fines. The program has drawn support from Governor Shumlin, States’ Attorneys T.J. Donovan and Michael Kainen and others. The Council says laws should be changed to make it easier for Vermonters to access that type of program year-round.
Another non-budget item is called “ban the box” which would allow former offenders re-entering their communities with more economic opportunity by allowing them to apply for jobs without having to check a box on an initial application indicating they’ve previously been convicted of a crime.
“Vermonters seeking jobs should be judged first by their skills and qualifications and not automatically disqualified because of a criminal history,” said Daniel Barlow, public policy manager with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “Studies show that ‘ban the box’ increases participation in the workforce from ex-offenders, offering people a second chance and an opportunity to make a living and improve their lives. VBSR is proud to join the effort to create more economic opportunity for Vermonters by endorsing this recommendation.”
“Reforming our criminal justice system is some of the best anti-poverty work we can do,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan. “This is about making progress for Vermonters. This Council is promoting ideas that will help lift people out of poverty,” he said.
Committee Chairs on Housing and Homelessness, Economic Security and Empowerment, Education, and Administrative Systems identified key priorities of the Council lauded the new initiatives:
“Safe, stable and affordable housing is the foundation families need to succeed and thrive,” said Council Member Erhard Mahnke Coordinator of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. “Our recommendations to the Governor include a menu of initiatives and investments that will make a real difference in the lives of low-income Vermonters struggling to survive,” he said.
“The recommendation in the Pathways Poverty Council include investments in proven anti-poverty programs and strategies that will help stabilize families, and offer opportunities and work supports to move themselves out of poverty,” said Council Member Karen Lafayette of the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council.
“Educational opportunity is key for children living in poverty,” said Council Member Martha Allen, President of Vermont-NEA. “And, yet many students and their families are facing anxiety, trauma, or other issues exacerbated by living in poverty,” she said. “To address this, the Council is promoting full-service schools or co-location of mental health or social services to educational facilities to help families and improve outcomes for kids.”
The Governor’s Council on Pathways from Poverty is a 30 member body established by Governor Peter Shumlin by Executive Order on December 30, 2013. Its 3-year charge is to identify the causes and symptoms of poverty and to make recommendations for action to alleviate poverty in Vermont.
Vermont Foodbank CEO, John Sayles, has served on the Council since its inception.