A Good Start

( – promoted by Jack McCullough)

Gov. Shumlin recently announced a new poverty reduction initiative. The total new state funding comes to about $2.5 million for homeless shelters, longer term affordable housing solutions, child care subsidies and case management/counseling services for low-income families. Together with federal matching money the total of new spending on anti-poverty programs tops $4 million.

This is a pretty big deal. I cannot recall a time in my almost ten years at Vermont Legal Aid where an initiative like this has been announced before the sitting Governor’s budget address. Having these commitments from the Governor secured in advance starts the conversation with lawmakers about priorities in an entirely different place. It signals an early commitment to anti-poverty programs that work. And, the establishment of a new poverty council signals a new commitment to communication and collaboration with low-income service providers and anti-poverty advocates. That is a welcome development from years past and prior administrations.

It’s also worth noting that many of the initiatives outlined by the Governor were recommendations made to him by an ad hoc coalition of low-income advocates who worked for months on a wide ranging report he requested in advance. Some of the recommendations are also echoed in a months long review of the Reach Up program required by the legislature (in which I also participated).

And, hopefully there will be more to come. Vermont Legal Aid’s poverty law project has created a legislative agenda focused on “Housing, Hunger, and Hard Work”. Many of the “housing” priorities are included in the Governor’s initiative (for example, doubling the Vermont Rental Subsidy program). But we hope lawmakers will respond to other issues we and others are raising as well. For example, holding low-income families harmless from food stamp overpayments that resulted from the state’s errors, not because of any fault of the families. And, making work pay for families on Reach Up by eliminating outdated asset tests and increasing earned income disregards so that work is rewarded, not punished. It would be great incentive if families knew they could keep every dime they earn for a period of time before grant reductions kick in instead of immediately losing support simply because they went to work. Other states are implementing these ideas. Vermont should, too.

The Council members (listed below) represent a wide variety of service providers and advocates well known for vigorous and able representation on behalf of their constituents. The new plan isn’t perfect, but it’s a far cry from no investment at all, or starting the year fighting new cuts to essential programs and services.

Certainly, the budget has yet to be announced and given the early reports of a $70 million deficit there are likely to be budget cuts forthcoming. It remains to be seen how savings will be acheived by the Administration. Certainly where proposed cuts might adversely affect the poorest Vermonters low-income advocates will once again speak out. That’s our job. On the other hand, today we have good news to cheer from the Administration in the form of significant new money for several programs and services many of us have recommended.

Taken together with the Administration’s willingness to listen to advocates over the summer before implementing emergency rules that would have overly restricted access to Vermont’s General Assistance program (which has resulted in the Administration going back to the legislature for more funds for emergency shelter – something the Council members support) these commitments represent real progress for the low-income Vermonters. It’s a good start.

I know I speak for the Council when I say we hope Vermonters will join us in supporting the Governor’s poverty reduction plan – and other initiatives designed to alleviate the symptoms and causes of poverty in Vermont. It’s a worthy effort.

***

Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty

(alphabetical)

Co-Chairs:

Christopher Curtis, Vermont Legal Aid

Linda Ryan, Samaritan House

Members:

Cary Brown, Vermont Commission on Women

Joshua Davis, Morningside Shelter

Erik Hoekstra, Redstone Commercial Group

Sara Kobylenski, Upper Valley Haven

Karen Lafayette, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council (VLIAC)

Jan Demers, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO)

Erhard Mahnke, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC)

Rita Markley, Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS)

Michael Monte, Champlain Housing Trust

Melinda Moulton

Marissa Parisi, Hunger Free Vermont

Joe Patrissi, Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA)

Elizabeth Ready, John Graham Shelter

Mark Redmond, Spectrum Youth Services

Sheila Reed, Voices for Vermont’s Children

Auburn Waterson, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Richard Williams, Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA)

Council currently made up of 19 members (30 member maximum).

12 thoughts on “A Good Start

  1. The composition of the Council is most encouraging, and I applaud any gains on reducing poverty that might result.

    I’ll keep a good thought and an open mind.

    Hopefully, none of us will be disappointed.

  2. … but:

    — I still have substantive doubts about the whole enterprise. Because of today’s massive social and economic inequalities, you can’t effectively create Pathways Out Of Poverty by tweaking social services. You’d have to address the causes of and remedies for wealth inequality. The committee’s charge, and membership, would have to include items like tax and labor policy. Anything short of that is going to result in small, incremental improvements — while the larger forces continue to operate, and severely limit the Pathways available.

    — Jack, if you’re going to promote a diary written by someone who’s actually on the committee, you should include a disclosure of that fact.  

  3. Year over year comparisons are useful. I’ll need to do some checking on the whole package, but there are a few easy answers. For example, the Vermont Rental Subsidy program is new altogether. So, doubling it from $500,000 to $1 million is a significant expansion.

    If that takes pressure off the GA (a.k.a. “motels”) program (limited to stays of 28 or 84 days depending on how you qualify), it could generate some savings (and better outcomes) from that very temporary program.

    I’ll have to check on some of the others. But, another good question. Thanks.

    Speaking of the GA program, don’t forget most of the members of this new Council worked very hard to push back on new GA rules that would have (in my view, and that of others) too narrowly restricted access to that program. The rulemaking process was, in a way, part of the genesis of a number of advocates coming together to discuss poverty. And, it led to a number of us continuing to meet on an ad hoc basis, which has now become a more formal Council.

    One of the good things about having a Council, too, from a media perspective is that the meetings will now be public record. There will be minutes, and the meetings will be noticed in advance so people can go. Those are all benefits in terms of transparency.

  4. No, the Poop council is not off to “a good start” it does not include one member of the public who actually lives in poverty.

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A Good Start

Gov. Shumlin recently announced a new poverty reduction initiative. The total new state funding comes to about $2.5 million for homeless shelters, longer term affordable housing solutions, child care subsidies and case management/counseling services for low-income families. Together with federal matching money the total of new spending on anti-poverty programs tops $4 million.

This is a pretty big deal. I cannot recall a time in my almost ten years at Vermont Legal Aid where an initiative like this has been announced before the sitting Governor’s budget address. Having these commitments from the Governor secured in advance starts the conversation with lawmakers about priorities in an entirely different place. It signals an early commitment to anti-poverty programs that work. And, the establishment of a new poverty council signals a new commitment to communication and collaboration with low-income service providers and anti-poverty advocates. That is a welcome development from years past and prior administrations.

It’s also worth noting that many of the initiatives outlined by the Governor were recommendations made to him by an ad hoc coalition of low-income advocates who worked for months on a wide ranging report he requested in advance. Some of the recommendations are also echoed in a months long review of the Reach Up program required by the legislature (in which I also participated).

And, hopefully there will be more to come. Vermont Legal Aid’s poverty law project is focused on a legislative agenda we’re calling “Housing, Hunger, and Hard Work”. Many of the “housing” priorities are included in the Governor’s initiative (for example, doubling the Vermont Rental Subsidy program). But we hope lawmakers will respond to other issues we and many others are raising as well. For example, holding low-income families harmless from food stamp overpayments that resulted from the state’s errors, not because of any fault of the families. And, making work pay for families on Reach Up by eliminating outdated asset tests and increasing earned income disregards so that work is rewarded, not punished. It would be great incentive if families knew they could keep every dime they earn for a period of time before grant reductions kick in instead of immediately losing support simply because they went to work. Other states are implementing these ideas. Vermont should, too.

The Council members (listed below) represent a wide variety of service providers and advocates well known for vigorous and able representation on behalf of their constituents. The new plan isn’t perfect, but it’s a far cry from no investment at all, or starting the year fighting new cuts to essential programs and services.

Certainly, the budget has yet to be announced and given the early reports of a $70 million deficit there are likely to be budget cuts forthcoming. It remains to be seen how savings will be acheived by the Administration. Certainly where proposed cuts might adversely affect the poorest Vermonters low-income advocates will once again speak out. That’s our job. On the other hand, today we have good news to cheer from the Administration in the form of significant new money for several programs and services many of us have recommended.

Taken together with the Administration’s willingness to listen to advocates over the summer before implementing emergency rules that would have overly restricted access to Vermont’s General Assistance program (which has resulted in the Administration going back to the legislature for more funds for emergency shelter – something the Council members support) these commitments represent real progress for the low-income Vermonters. It’s a good start.

I know I speak for the Council when I say we hope Vermonters will join us in supporting the Governor’s poverty reduction plan – and other initiatives designed to alleviate the symptoms and causes of poverty in Vermont. It’s a worthy effort.

***

Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty

(alphabetical)

Co-Chairs:

Christopher Curtis, Vermont Legal Aid

Linda Ryan, Samaritan House

Members:

Cary Brown, Vermont Commission on Women

Joshua Davis, Morningside Shelter

Erik Hoekstra, Redstone Commercial Group

Sara Kobylenski, Upper Valley Haven

Karen Lafayette, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council (VLIAC)

Jan Demers, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO)

Erhard Mahnke, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition (VAHC)

Rita Markley, Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS)

Michael Monte, Champlain Housing Trust

Melinda Moulton

Marissa Parisi, Hunger Free Vermont

Joe Patrissi, Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA)

Elizabeth Ready, John Graham Shelter

Mark Redmond, Spectrum Youth Services

Sheila Reed, Voices for Vermont’s Children

Auburn Waterson, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

Richard Williams, Vermont State Housing Authority (VSHA)

Council currently made up of 19 members (30 member maximum).

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