2019 Legislative Agenda
Increase cash assistance to Vermont’s most vulnerable families to current basic needs standard and eliminate the $115/mo penalty for families with an adult who is disabled.
Investing in children is key to turning the curve on a number of issues that impact state budgets now and in the future. Current appropriations to the Reach Up program effectively ensure that a program meant “to improve the well-being of children by providing for their immediate basic needs” provides less than 40% of the income needed to achieve its purpose, according to the Department for Children and Family’s basic needs budget calculations. This leaves the most vulnerable children in the state to experience significant material deprivation while their caregivers are unable to work. We propose that the state take immediate action to increase the base Reach Up grant – using current basic needs budget figures in the calculation of the FY20 Reach Up budget (in place of 2004 figures), indexing the calculations to inflation, and increasing the ratable reduction calculation from its current 49.6% level to 100% over time. We also call for full reversal of the decision to deduct $115 from Reach Up benefits for families that include an adult receiving SSI.
*Note – the “ratable reduction” is a calculation applied to the basic needs budget to match Reach Up grants to current appropriations. In other words, Reach Up grants are calculated by taking the figure for a basic needs budget from 2004 and then reducing it to 49.6%. Voices ultimate goal is for Reach Up grants to reflect 100% of the DCF current needs budget.
Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program (FaMLI)
Provide economic support and job security to families facing a serious illness or to bond with a new child.
Voices co-leads the FaMLI coalition working to establish a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program. The bill that passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by the governor was a significant step backwards in many respects from what other states have passed recently. In the new biennium, Voices supports a robust paid family and medical leave law that meets the needs of families in terms of the level of wage replacement and the duration of leave.
Ensure that wages are sufficient to meet families’ basic needs.
Voices is a member of the Raise the Wage coalition fighting for a raise for low-income Vermonters, and supports the target of $15/hr in as short a timeframe as possible. We are particularly concerned with mitigating any impacts of the wage increase on the “benefits cliff,” so that the net impact of wage increases is positive for families. We also support coordinated efforts to increase Child Care Financial Assistance Program reimbursement rates for providers, many of whom struggle to cover the costs of providing quality care with the current low reimbursement rates.
Child Care: Access and Affordability
Support increases to Child Care Financial Assistance eligibility and provider reimbursement rates. Examine how the current regulatory framework for high-quality care is impacting access.
Voices supports efforts to improve access to affordable, quality, early care and learning. A lack of access to any care – let alone 4- and 5-STAR programs – serves as a tremendous obstacle to family economic security. Voices believes that centering access in policy conversations and applying an equity analysis is critical to finding sustainable solutions that support working families and ensure children’s health and safety. We will explore the lack of alignment between regulation and resources in the child care system, and conduct an analysis of the professionalization of caregiving.
Medicaid Coverage of Doula services
Make this low-cost service with excellent outcomes for kids, mothers and families available to pregnant women on Medicaid.
Research shows that continuous labor support provided by doulas can improve outcomes for mothers and infants during and after birth. The use of doulas was associated with significant reductions in costly interventions, including requests for pain medication, induced labors, and cesarean deliveries. In addition, babies in doula-assisted births had higher Apgar scores and were more successful with breastfeeding. Two states currently cover doula services through Medicaid (Oregon and Minnesota). Legislation offered in the past two sessions proposed to cover up to $750 in doula services, including pre- and post-delivery visits. We believe this expanded coverage will be cost neutral or even save the Medicaid program money, in addition to the long-term benefits that are more difficult to quantify and assign a dollar value to.
Lead in School Water Systems
Ensure that schools have the resources to immediately test and remediate plumbing fixtures that may be contaminating children’s drinking water with lead.
A school lead testing pilot program of 16 schools around the state found that fixtures were dispensing drinking water with lead concentrations above the 1ppb recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There is no safe level of lead, and children are particularly vulnerable to the detrimental effects of lead exposure. Voices supports legislation making the testing immediate and mandatory and allocating funds for remediation.
Invest in Afterschool Programs
An extensive report from the Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Working Group under Vermont’s PreK-16 Council has shown that $2.5 million per year is needed to make sure every family and student who needs afterschool and summer learning can have access to these programs. We support Vermont Afterschool’s recommendation that the State make a strong investment in afterschool programs to:
a) support the learning, emotional and social needs of children and youth; and
b) address the systemic inequities that limit access to afterschool and summer learning programs for low-income children, youth, and families.
Eliminate the Property Tax on Primary Residences and Base School Taxes on Income
Voices will support a proposal to make the school funding system fairer and less complicated. While Vermont’s current funding system is the most progressive in the country, it still favors upper-income Vermonters who pay their education taxes based on property value thus allowing them to pay a smaller share of their income in school taxes than low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Eliminating the property tax on primary residences makes the school tax system less regressive and simpler. First, it would be based on each taxpayer’s ability to pay; and second, it would go from two systems - one for higher-income people and one for low- and middle-income people - to one system for everyone (see Public Asset Institute’s fact sheet for details).
Ethnic & Social Equity in Schools
The lack of attention to the histories and contributions of non-dominant racial, ethnic, and social groups in school curriculums contributes to the marginalization of members of these groups, and leads to a standard of miseducation for all students. Including the history and contributions of people from more diverse racial, ethnic, and social identities can enrich students' achievement, positive identity development, and sense of awareness and connectedness to local, national, and global communities. Voices will support the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in Schools work to advance legislation that establishes a working group to create inclusive curriculum standards across all subjects, PreK-12.
FAMILY & COMMUNITY
Office of Child Advocate
Establish an independent oversight entity for the child protection system.
Office of Child Advocate exist in most states, including the other five New England states. The key principles of the internationally recognized ombudsman model are independence and objectivity, credibility of the investigation process, unfettered access to records, and confidentiality. offices have complete access to case files and other records, and review state actions for compliance with existing statute and adherence to policy. Where existing statute is unclear or not aligned with evidence-based practice, the office can make recommendations for policy change. Typically, the office publishes an annual report that aggregates the complaints, points out trends (geographical, types of policy violations, etc.) and make recommendations for system reform.
Voices will monitor and participate in reforming the juvenile justice system. This will include monitoring the work presented about the CHINS process, the raise the age initiatives, the conversations about Woodside, and the broad continuum of care for children and youth in Vermont.