Shumlin announces anti-poverty initiatives

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin announced proposals to address poverty on Monday 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.

→ A $300,000 increase of state funding for the Emergency Solutions Grants that help cover the cost of emergency shelters. Those programs face a loss of $200,000 due to federal sequestration cuts. The additional $100,000 would increase seasonal capacity at shelters.

→ 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.

Linda Ryan, executive director of Samaritan House Inc. in St. Albans lauded the proposals and the new council for addressing multiple issues related to poverty and homelessness together, instead of keeping safety-net programs in their own “little silos.”

Increasingly, it’s not just the homeless who need help getting by, she added.

“There’s a lot of working poor, people with two to three jobs, who can’t afford to live in an apartment on their own,” Ryan said, “That’s why the rental subsidy is so important.”

Case managers can help those who are striving to find permanent housing, as well as those looking to keep it, learn the personal finance and budgeting skills to help them improve their situation, she added.

As of its last point-in-time survey, the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Vermont counted 1,500 homeless people in the state. On any given night, more than 300 people crowd into shelters and nearly a third are children, said Dave Yacavone, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

Homeless shelter operators said some facilities have been operating at overflow levels for close to a year, and beds are consistently filled.

Vermont spends $1.2 million in state and federal money on its shelter system, Yacavone said. The actual cost of homelessness is much higher, Shumlin said, because homeless people use many other state services.

The actual number of homeless people in the state is likely much higher than the 1,500 counted by HUD, said Erhard Mahnke, coordinator of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.

Many Vermonters fall into a group he called the “hidden homeless,” those who are couch surfing or doubled up with friends or family, but who have no stable long-term housing. If they were included, the number of homeless could be as high as 2,800, Mahnke said.

Morgan True

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Janice Prindle
3 years 24 days ago
All well and good, but a drop in the bucket. The most important this governor could and should do is push his fellow governors, and their powerful lobby group, to push Congress to address the root of the problem: starting with the very narrow definition of “the poor,” because the feds have set the bar (the poverty level) so low that it excludes much of the working poor, while also setting the minimum wage at a ridiculously low level as well. (I know Vermont’s is higher, but it’s still not a living wage.) Push the governors’ association to push Congress… Read more »
Dave Bellini
3 years 23 days ago
“Shumlin declined to give details on how…” . How is not the point. The point is to get a much needed headline that demonstrates the Governor’s compassion for the poor. Beautifully timed and choreographed during a cold snap the Olympic ice dancing judges in Sochi would give this performance high marks. The announcement needed some Russian classical background music. This is a continuing pattern of telling Vermonters he will explain what he says today at a future date. It’s likely he will hand this off to the legislature and tell them to figure out how to fund it. Or, offer… Read more »
J. Scott Cameron
3 years 23 days ago

Dave Bellini you hit the nail right on the head. This was, most likely, nothing more than a photo op and sound bite moment.

Timothy MacLam
3 years 23 days ago

Absolutely. Unless, like Ebenezer Scrooge, he has had a conversion experience. However, since all he has shown us in the past is extreme indifference to the poor, the sick, and the struggling, he will have to get his hands away from his big money friends long enough to show him working for average and less fortunate Vermonters.

Can he pull it off? He is pretty slick. Let us hope people are tired of his self-serving antics and vote him out of office.

3 years 23 days ago
And Vermont has the lowest unemployment rate in the Nation??? And the $70 million budget shortfall – but wait, during the months of early last year it was $40 million then it went to $50, 000,000 and now it’s $70 million????? People working 2-3 jobs at sub poverty level wages and “We are Vermont Strong”! Now, our humble leaders have to come up with money to appease the EPA and the phosphorus issue, Common Core Indoctrination (over $500,000), the healthcare (opps, it don’t work) insurance company rip-off and now, instead of creating jobs, we will have to pay for even… Read more »
Fred Woogmaster
3 years 23 days ago

Mr. Shumlin is a seasoned politician; publicity, highlighted by photo ops is part of the package.

Nevertheless, I will assume this attempt is both honest and honorable and that a way will be found to fund these very important initiatives.

Timothy MacLam
3 years 22 days ago

Mr. Woogmaster,
I wish I could share your optimism about the governor, but we are dealing with a man to whom “honest and honorable” do not apply.

Amelia Silver
3 years 22 days ago

You are all so cynical. He hasn’t had a conversion moment a la Scrooge–he’s getting reports from the field, and the field is bloody, worn and dying. It continues to puzzle me that smart Vermonters (I’m giving you that) can’t hold two thoughts at the same time: everything is black and white for you. So you can’t imagine that a governor who has done things you don’t like could also do things you like. This is no photo pop. Betcha.

Dave Bellini
3 years 22 days ago

Well, it puzzles me that other smart Vermonters defend the Governor no matter his transgression or decisions. To some he is always right and just and moral and sincere. He always tells the truth and is never disingenuous, ever. Even Eddie Haskell has his fan club.

Timothy MacLam
3 years 21 days ago

Just as I have said – Shumlin is Vermont’s Eddie Haskell. We need many June Cleavers to spell it out, I guess.

3 years 20 days ago

By the way, among other things, it has since been pointed out that the acronym for Governor Peter Shumlin’s newly established Council on Pathways Out of
Poverty is POoP:

2 years 9 months ago

Word is that the Governor’s Cabal on Poverty (aka Pathways From Poverty Council) held a meeting, which was closed to the public, with Governor Peter Shumlin today:

Nothing more in the way of details to report really, other than it was mentioned that apparently nothing of the nature of a state secret had been discussed.

(so much for transparency)

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