Paid Sick Days and the Minimum Wage
H. 208, an act relating to absence from work for health care and safety or “The Earned Sick Days Bill” was introduced in January of 2013. Under H. 208, all employees in Vermont would be able to earn a minimum amount of paid time off to manage their own health and the health of family members as well as to recover from the effects of domestic and sexual violence. The bill was taken up for consideration by the House Committee on General Housing and Military Affairs early in the 2014 session and passed through that committee with an exclusion for businesses that employ fewer than five employees. The bill was subsequently sent to the House Appropriations committee where it was not taken up for consideration.
The momentum around establishing a standard of paid time off has grown tremendously thanks to the efforts of the Paid Sick Days Coalition. People around the state, including legislators are acutely aware of the need to elevate the wage and benefits floor for working Vermonters. Following on the governor’s endorsement of raising the minimum wage, the legislature pivoted its focus from H.208 to a minimum wage increase.
H. 552, an act relating to raising the Vermont minimum wage proposes to increase the state’s minimum wage from $8.73/hour to $12.50/hour, effective January 1, 2015. Hearings are currently being held on this bill in the House. The governor’s proposed increase to the minimum wage would increase the minimum wage to $10.10/hour over the course of three years. Possible amendments to H. 552 may include the governor’s proposal or increasing the minimum wage to $10.10, effective January 1, 2015.
Both Paid Sick Days and increasing the minimum wage are critically important for working families in Vermont. Voices for Vermont’s Children is proud of our work in elevating awareness of the need and the will to effect change in these areas. Voices for Vermont’s Children and the Paid Sick Days Coalition will continue to look for opportunities to establish a benefits standard for all workers in Vermont throughout the rest of this legislative session and supports a minimum wage increase.
For more information on H.208, the Earned Sick Days bill, please link here: www.voicesforvtkids.org/paidsickdays
Early Childhood Updates
Voices for Vermont’s Children has been following the 2015 budget through the legislature, following H. 790’s reforms to the Reach Up program, and monitoring issues involving child protection.
2015 Fiscal Year Budget. Governor Shumlin’s proposed budget included two items adding money for childcare programs and the families that utilize those programs. The first item added $812,448 to STARS to keep payments current to programs. The second item added monies to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) to bring CCFAP current with the 2014 Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Keeping the FPL current keeps families who qualify for childcare subsidies from falling behind. The amount to bring the FPL current with 2014 is $360,000. Due to the budget shortfall, the FPL request of $ 360,000 was initially put on the wish list before the House Appropriations Committee added it to the budget. The House passed the appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering the budget passed by the House. We will continue to monitor the budget and advocate to keep the monies allocated for the FPL and STARS as the budget makes it way through the Legislature.
Pre-K. H. 270 builds upon Act 62 and will expand the availability and quality of Pre-K programs throughout the state.
Last year, H. 270 passed the House and the Senate Education Committee. H. 270 is before the Senate Appropriations Committee. At the beginning of the year, the Senate Appropriations Committee decided to take up H. 270 later in the session and to look at H. 270 in the context of educational spending. We anticipate that hearings will be scheduled and we are working with other advocates to advance Pre-K education.
Reach Up. Last year, changes were made to the Reach Up program including a lifetime limit of 60 months of benefits in most cases. Over the summer, Voices participated on a task force that made recommendations to change the Reach Up statute. Two of those changes include liberalizing the assets test and increasing the earned income disregard. H. 790 addresses both the assets test and the earned income disregard. The current earned income disregard leads to a benefit cliff that can lead to families cycling off and on benefits and can act as a disincentive to work. Voices testified on behalf of H. 790 as originally drafted. The proposed change to the earned income disregard is beneficial. We do not agree to the proposed funding mechanism that reduces Reach Up grants to fund the disregard. We will work with other advocates in the Senate to change the funding mechanism so that recipients’ grants are not reduced.
Child protections. We monitored hearings on the child protection system in House Human Services. We supported H. 73, which would create an Office of Child Advocate. H. 73 was not acted upon this session, Voices intends to continue to build support for an Office of Child Advocate for the next legislative session.
Voices for Vermont’s Children PO Box 261, Montpelier, VT 05601 * 802.229.6377 * firstname.lastname@example.org