Shumlin: From poverty to prosperity

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.

As I travel around the state visiting with Vermonters, I am grateful for how well we are doing. Our unemployment rate is consistently among the lowest in the nation. We are coming out of the Great Recession in better condition than our neighbors. Our revenues have rebounded by 27 percent since its depths. And we are fighting back from Tropical Storm Irene stronger than ever.

But the people of our state are not satisfied with just doing well, and neither am I. There are still Vermonters who are working hard, but struggling to get by. Others would like to return to work but are trapped in a system that stifles the desire to get ahead. And there are still Vermont kids who are not getting what they need to be ready for school, work and life.

To fix these long-simmering problems, we must make sure we are spending our resources to help our fellow Vermonters get back on their feet and back to work in the smartest way we can. Right now we are not doing so.

So my budget focuses on ways we can ensure a better future for our children, because that is the best way to combat poverty and strengthen Vermont. I have presented three related proposals to advance this goal.

More well-paying jobs filled by well-prepared Vermonters is the key to our state’s future, and we will get there by recognizing that education means much more than what happens within the traditional four walls of a classroom.

First, I have called for rethinking the way we educate our kids. More well-paying jobs filled by well-prepared Vermonters is the key to our state’s future, and we will get there by recognizing that education means much more than what happens within the traditional four walls of a classroom. Education must be nimble, individualized, and technology-driven to prepare children starting in their earliest years for success in their careers, particularly in fields like science, technology, engineering, and math. Vermont employers are already clamoring for workers ready to fill these skilled jobs, and we expect an even greater need as our economy continues to grow.

Second, we must support both education and our economy by ensuring that quality child care is available for parents who need that help to stay or advance in their jobs. For many Vermonters, the biggest barrier to work and prosperity is the inability to afford quality child care. This prevents parents from taking jobs that would lift their families out of poverty, and it limits the choices they can make to give their children a strong start. That is why I propose investing $16.7 million of the state’s allocation for the Earned Income Tax Credit directly for the benefit of lower-income Vermonters who need quality child care.

Some have criticized this proposal, instead calling for funding child-care subsidies through higher taxes. But Vermont already enjoys one of the most progressive tax systems in the country. Our current EITC allocation is among the highest in the nation, and has risen 49 percent in the past eight years because it is federally indexed. We can invest a portion of the combined state and federal EITC, roughly 15 percent, in a more targeted way that will directly help children who live in poverty without imposing an additional tax burden on hard-working Vermonters while our state struggles out of the worst recession any of us have seen.

Finally, I believe that we can strengthen our state and offer better opportunities for lower-income families by addressing the so-called “benefits cliff” in our current welfare system. Our system now penalizes Vermonters who want to work, because as they begin to earn money, we reduce their child-care and other benefits by even more, causing many to stay out of the workforce or quit their new jobs.

Right now, Vermont is the only state in the country that extends welfare Reach Up benefits indefinitely, without interruption, to the entire eligible household. Doing so does nothing to encourage people to get a job. That is why my proposal to dramatically increase our child-care subsidy is coupled with a fair, five-year limit on our welfare-to-work benefits. Together, these proposals help fix the benefits cliff, stabilize our welfare-to-work program, and promote opportunity for welfare recipients.

At the same time, we will provide protections and programs for those who are unable to be in the workforce, to fight poverty and support those in need. Indeed, even with the changes I have proposed, our budget for next year’s human services programs has increased. There are other investments in my budget to support our children, improve our education system, and strengthen Vermont as well, such as free school meals for all low-income students, and funding to lower the cost of higher education for Vermont students. I also proposed greater
investments in workforce development, and scholarships for Vermonters who train in a science, technology or math field and commit to working in our state.

We have an opportunity to rethink, revise and improve how we invest in helping to lift Vermonters out of poverty and into the workforce. It will take hard work and a willingness to reconsider beliefs and assumptions that many of us have held for a long time, me included. I
am ready for the challenge, and I ask you to join me.

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  • Pete Novick

    As a newer Vermont resident – I moved to South Newfane permanently in May 2011 – I have taken time to better my understand Vermont’s government. As the old saying goes, if you want to know what’s going on, follow the money. So, I have logged my fair share of hours on going through the spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations and I am impressed with how clearly the fiscal data are presented and how easy it is to follow the budget exhibits.

    So, when I visited Vermont Digger this evening and had a chance to read Governor Shumlin’s recommendation to give people more of a hand up rather than a hand out via his child care funding initiative, I have to say, as a near-term measure, I agree.

    For the longer term though, this is a small beer solution.

    The median family income in the US is about $57,000, while in Vermont the median family income is about $49,000. Please see the data at

    For the longer term, I recommend the governor and his administration, working in partnership with the private and non-profit sectors, set a goal to grow the white collar workforce here in Vermont by 3 per cent per year.

    Economists are in broad agreement on the impact of adding white collar workers – knowledge workers if you prefer – to local communities. Adding ten white collar workers directly and indirectly leads to the creation of two or more blue collar jobs and there is a lot of data to support this.

    A recent news article noted that Vermont’s high school graduation rates going up, and based on college acceptance rates, Vermont public high schools are doing a better job at preparing high school graduates to be successful in college.

    The irony here is that Vermont does not have the white collar job base to support their return to careers here. In a sense, Vermont is exporting its best and brightest (think human capital) the way it exports maple syrup and forest products.

    Finally, it’s time Vermont look to our neighbor to the north to help grow our economy. The Quebec economy, relative to the US in general and New England in particular, has been on a tear these past few years. (Remember, Canada did not have a housing bubble or a banking crisis.) Quebec is home to some of Canada’s most successful companies and many of them are looking to expand into new markets. Vermont can be a part of that.

    OK. I do have one criticism of the Vermont budget: nowhere did I see a funding line item containing the word ‘business’ as in business improvement, etc.

    You get the idea.

  • Shay Totten

    Steal from the poor, give to the poor. What a guy.

    • Don Peabody

      Yeah, Shay; it’s so disappointing. Peter nearly lost the first time around, and, by my estimation, won only because Bernie took him around the state and fired us up. Surely, none of us who consider ourselves Democrats–or Progressives–want to elect another Jim Douglass, but I think we need to ask ourselves: Are we really better off with Peter? If I “follow the money”, it looks to me like the people who are better off now that Peter is Governor are pretty much in his income bracket. I know his “rob from the poor, pay the poor” proposals won’t help my family, nor, if my understanding is correct, will we be better off with the proposed health insurance changes. I think Peter fails to see and accept the fact that, proportionately, it’s those at “the bottom” who give the most, nor, apparently, does he see that systemic factors are far more responsible for poverty than lack of will or skill. I hate to say it—my two curly-tops first political “crush” was Peter Shumlin; it was very touching—but I think, besides fighting him in the Legislature, we need to start thinking about who to run for Governor next time. And do that thinking NOW.

    • Renée Carpenter

      Says it all–thank you!

  • Coleman Dunnar

    We keep hearing about all these unfilled good paying jobs so how about listing specifics in you next platitude laden speech. People go where the opportunities are. In the economy of the past decade of historically high unemployment especially among college grads it is incredulous to believe that jobs are remain unfilled. On this day it seems appropriate to quote Lincoln “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

  • I urge Governor Shumlin and all of Vermont’s elected officials and board members at the state and local levels to take the time to understand how certain technologies are adversely affecting the learning environments in classrooms.

    As someone who was born and raised in Vermont and has always been more interested in math, science and technology, I disagree that education should be “technology-driven,” especially in the primary grades.

    Logically, it is tempting to believe that the more hours a child sits at a computer, the more likely she will be able to find work in our technology-driven workforce. This is not necessarily the case because of the electromagnetic exposures created by devices and networks that are designed for convenience or “wow factor” instead of health.

    The most significant problem lies in the race to untether students by employing wireless (Wifi) networks. This strategy is creating radio frequency environments in our classrooms—in our childrens’ laps—that surpasses what can be found under cell phone towers. Instead of creating “competitiveness,” these microwave exposures are setting up future generations for significant health and learning challenges. Even the most progressive, intelligent healthcare system will be overrun by costs and patients from carelessly radiating our children’s growing minds and bodies with these industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) radio fields.

    There is a time and place for technology-based learning, but please consider that not all screens, keyboards and networks are created equally and not all classrooms need to have computers in them. Let’s teach our children the important difference between “progress” and “progress traps” and take the time to (re)design classrooms that value the health of students above all.

  • Renée Carpenter

    The following is an excerpt from another recent vtdigger article by Alicia Freese, “Reach Up participants say governor’s plan to curb welfare program is misguided.” I felt it relevant and appropriate to share it here:

    “… healthy families are important to our community, and they don’t come about in the absence of nurturing parents present at critical, and often undeterminable, moments in children’s lives. Some of us understand this at a more practical level than others.

    “If we’d rather see children going to college than to prison; if we want to see children thriving, happy, evolving into creative, productive, active citizens; it is time to stop politicizing our social safety nets every time some man doesn’t want to make a difficult political decision. We have decades or more of scientifically-researched (and anecdotal) evidence about what children, families, and society needs for healthy development.

    “Stop polarizing our communities with this divisive debate, Mr. Shumlin, and raise broad-based revenue on those most able to pay.

    “For the rest of us, when we see our single parent families, we should express kindness and appreciation for the difficult job they have to do. Everyone deserves the basic security of a stable home, good nutrition, warmth, health care, education, and a positive appreciated role in the community at large.”

    For the full article with additional responses, go to:

  • Renée Carpenter

    Sorry – my last response is missing these words, “my response to” in between “an excerpt from” and “another recent vtdigger article”

    The opening sentence should read, “The following is my response to an excerpt from another recent vtdigger article by Alicia Freese, “Reach Up participants say governor’s plan to curb welfare program is misguided.”

    Thank you for correcting before posting, as it gives the wrong impression without that phrase.

    Apologies. (couldn’t find an “edit” button)

  • Renée Carpenter

    “The following is an excerpt from my response to …. So sorry, I’d best get back to work!

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Matt makes an important point about Wifi and radiation.

    The US ranks 17th in education. Finland is at the top. In Finland there is almost no electronic technology in classrooms.

    The most important thing any teacher can do is to inspire a great appreciation for learning. Most learning takes place outside of school. It is a lifetime endevour. Teach the kids how to think and how to learn – the rest will take care of itself – but another big problem is the culture which places too much value on other activities such as sports, wealth,and all things trivial.

    AND, PLEASE stop the propagandizing in the schools. Bennington has a Cadet Program for the Middle School kids. It is taught by retired and active duty military. Instead, teach an accurate view of US and World history. End the brain-washing.

  • The ratio of vague cliches to concrete specifics was painful, but perhaps not surprising.

    My takeaway from this is not that Shumlin is “wrong” about anything — but that he has no answers whatsoever.

    I don’t necessarily think that’s an indicment of Shumlin so much as a statement about the magnitude of the hard problems Vermont faces.

  • David Dempsey

    What an idiot. I’m glad Shumlin is grateful we (Vermonters) are doing so well. I’m doing so well that I had to borrow money last year to pay my property taxes. I have a couple of friends who are past unemployment eligibility and do odd jobs under the table because they can’t find a full time job. I also know some people that have moved out of state to find work. These people don’t show up in Shumlins unemployment figures. He is a perfect example of just about everything that is wrong in politics today.

  • It is misleading and counterproductive to compare what Vermont does for our poorest citizens compared to the rest of the country. Of course we do more, most states have a record to be ashamed of. Our benchmarks should be what we need to move forward as a state, not how our coddling of the rich is less onerous than other states.