MORGAN TRUE, VTDigger.org
Gov. Peter Shumlin announced proposals to address poverty Dec. 31 and signed an order forming an executive council to guide those efforts.
Flanked by administration officials, anti-poverty advocates and service providers, Shumlin stressed the importance of assisting the state’s most vulnerable people at a time when Congress and the federal government are cutting money that has long helped Vermonters pay rent, heat their homes and put food on the table.
"We’re at a time in our nation’s history where Congress is cutting back the resources that are so important to Vermonters who are struggling to make ends meet," Shumlin said, adding those cuts deepen the hurt of a sluggish economy where wages remain stagnant.
He noted that 100,000 residents saw a reduction in federal food assistance recently and the state’s Section 8 affordable housing voucher program has shrunk by more than 10 percent. In addition there have been cuts in home heating fuel assistance subsidies, caused by sequestration and other budget negotiations in Washington.
Shumlin declined to give details on how these proposals, which cost a combined $2.55 million, would be paid for as part of a balanced budget when the state is facing a $70 million budget shortfall.
"The money’s coming from our budget. To tell you exactly where the money is coming from I’d have to tell you my budget, and I’m going to give you that on Jan. 15," he told reporters.
He acknowledged this year’s budget will require tough choices, but added that governors have priorities and reducing poverty is one of his.
Asked if his budget would fully fund the General Assistance program, which serves as a source of last resort to pay for the type of assistance covered in the proposals floated Monday, Shumlin was non-committal.
"You gotta wait and see until Jan. 15 when I give you my budget, and we’ll give you the exact numbers of what we’re going to be doing. But what I have said is, as tough as this budget is - and it is tough - you’re going to see us work very hard not to, whenever possible, balance this budget on the backs of the folks who are already taking a hit," Shumlin said.
"Now what does that mean? That means we don’t need to slash programs, it does mean we do need to bend the rate of growth in programs," he explained.
The anti-poverty proposals include:
* Doubling of the Vermont Rental Subsidy program to $1 million. The program helps families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless find permanent housing.
* An increase of $200,000 to the Family Supportive Housing, which provides case management services to homeless families as they look for housing.
* An $800,000 increase for top performing child care providers in the state (based on the STARS quality child care recognition system), and an update of the federal poverty level on which payment for child care is calculated.
* An additional $650,000 for substance abuse and mental health treatment services for ReachUp recipients, which would be matched with $576,197 in federal money.