Panel ponders proposals to help low income Vermonters

Economic development panel

From left: Capstone Executive Director Dan Hoxworth, Treasurer Beth Pearce, CFED founder Bob Friedman, and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

At a panel discussion Thursday, Vermont officials discussed how different economic approaches could help address poverty in the state.

The panel, hosted by Capstone Community Action and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, featured Treasurer Beth Pearce and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman alongside Bob Friedman, of the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

Friedman founded the national nonprofit, which focuses on generating economic opportunity for low-income individuals. Factors very early in individuals’ lives and often out of their control have a powerful bearing over outcomes later on.

“I think we don’t understand how much we owe to how we’re born and where we’re born,” Friedman said.

With information about the assets and location of a family when a child is born, Friedman can predict “with painful accuracy” the education, employment, housing and more the child will have later in life.

The primary approach to addressing poverty in the twentieth century was building a safety net of programs that help people access basic needs, he said.

“But it doesn’t offer a way out,” Friedman added.

Because of caps on the income benefits recipients can earn, it can be very difficult for people to earn more money and move off of those programs, he said.

“I think what we need to be about is building the ladder,” Friedman said. “We need to make sure that everybody has a chance.”

Instead of keeping people simply sustained, officials hope to create programs that will help people move out of poverty.

People with low incomes, even those considerably below the poverty line, can save money and launch successful businesses, he said.

“We forget the dreams and the energy that we write off if we don’t invest in a fundamental way,” Friedman said.

On a scorecard by CFED that tracks how well states are doing on more than 60 different economic indicators in a variety of areas including financial assets, housing, health care and education, Vermont ranked first in the nation.

The organization ranked Vermont eleventh in the nation for implementing policies it deems important.

Friedman argues the costs associated with low-income economic immobility are born by the state.

“You can either exclude people and try to pay for the damage of that, or you can include everybody in an opportunity economy, give them a chance to play,” he said.

Pearce said she is interested in working more with vulnerable populations in Vermont.

“Every single Vermonter should be entitled to a lifetime of financial wellbeing,” Pearce said.

Her office has already taken on several initiatives to try to encourage greater financial opportunity for vulnerable populations, she said.

Earlier this year, Pearce unveiled a program that allows Vermonters with disabilities to set up investment accounts without losing state and federal benefits.

Pearce also raised the proposal to establish a public retirement plan.

When people have sufficient savings to support them in retirement, they contribute to the overall economy, she said. Without it, those individuals “will be a drag on the economy instead of an engine,” she said.

Zuckerman said that there have been efforts in Vermont to focus on access to food, housing healthcare and other fundamental services.

“If the ground is solid under someone’s feet then they have the opportunity to stand up and reach up without falling with the ground shaking underneath them,” he said.

He encouraged support for establishing paid family and medical leave.

A bill to create a state-administered program was introduced this year with tri-partisan support, but has since stalled in the House.

Zuckerman argued that though the costs associated with such a proposal may seem considerable, the benefits balance the price tag.

Elizabeth Hewitt

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  • Edward Letourneau

    “… On a scorecard by CFED that tracks how well states are doing on more
    than 60 different economic indicators in a variety of areas including
    financial assets, housing, health care and education, Vermont ranked
    first in the nation.” — they need to find more accurate measurements. Vermonter’s have an average credit score of 700 which is far from leading in anything financial, 50% of rents go to taxes and fees, 40% of the mortgage goes to taxes and fees, The heath care rating is sewed by having 1/3 of the population on Medicaid, and in education we have the highest taxes per capita and graduation rates that are 4% below the national average for white students.

    If these people really want to do something for the poor, cut the taxes and fees, and for those who want to get a job and off welfare help them move to a place that has jobs.

    • Matt Young

      Don’t forget cutting the ridiculous amount of regulation we have in Vermont. Regulations forged by the feel gooders and those who’s livelihoods are not affected by a free market.

      • Edward Letourneau

        The worst regulation is Act 250, that can cause a prospective business to spend thousands and years in the process, with no guarantee there will be a permit issued. — Act 250 was written to stop the development of farms, after 1/2 of them went out of business in the 1960s due to the federal Class A, Class B milk rules, and the fear the interstate would bring in more flatlanders who wanted second homes in the country.

  • John Sayles

    Kuddos to everyone involved! This is just the conversation we need to be having. As we talk about getting more people to move to Vermont we forget about all those who are here and are going to stay that don’t have an opportunity to fully participate in our economy.

  • Anthony Redington

    With 311 VT Section 8 housing vouchers at stake in Congress between now and October (that is when more cuts from Trump budget kicks in), the continued loss of these “livable rent” tickets to our low income means we lose another poverty battle. Federal housing support for low income Vermonters peaked in 2004 and has slowly declined since. The VT legislature needs to step up and begin to raise and spend some real tax dollars on housing and job training as the federal government abandons them. Tony Redington Burlington

    • Steve Baker

      I guess what you’re saying, since 2004, the largest influx of money ever, and nothing has been improved ?
      Maybe it’s time to try a different direction.

  • Ritva Burton

    Why is there no discussion to make VT more affordable for retirees? Lots of talk about low income “most vulnerable” Vermonters. How about giving retirees a tax break on NOT taxing their social security? Or a break on property values? The income sensitivity does not do this. This would be a start.

    • Glenn Thompson

      At least retirees have the option of moving to ‘greener pastures’ where the cost of living and taxation is much cheaper than Vermont. You are 100% correct, retirees get absolutely no breaks at all from the State of Vermont.

      • Ritva Burton

        The problem with moving out of VT is that if you happen to live in a town where property is not selling, it’s not so easy to move!

        • Edward Letourneau

          They are not selling because no one is moving here, you need more than a welfare check to qualify for a mortgage.

      • rosemariejackowski

        Not if they have PFOA in their water. Many who have worked a lifetime are now stranded in Vermont. They have lost equity in their only asset – their home. They can’t sell it and they cannot continue to survive here. Meanwhile, the town continues to tax them at the pre contamination property tax rate, instead of the real current value. These Vermonters are living through a Perfect Storm. The Feds are ignoring this. The State is holding a few meetings. The town is silent and non communicative.
        Anybody out there wanna buy my house? Bring your own water.

        • Jon Corrigan

          Towns fear lawsuits – that’s the unfortunate single remedy that will goad them into taking any action. Try getting some agency to take it pro bono.

      • Edward Letourneau

        We have to move. This state does things like tax IRA money 3 times, adds fees to electricity and telephone bills for the benefit of other people, has car registration and inspection costs 5 times what they are elsewhere, and thinks if you own a home you have a money tree that can be picked at will all for the support of the liberal agendas.

  • Jamie Carter

    “Every single Vermonter should be entitled to a lifetime of financial wellbeing,” Pearce said.”

    THe vast majority of this is vague mumbo jumbo with nothing in the way of realistic and practical ideas. But we do get this beauty from Mrs. Pearce… I do hope someone in the VTGOP saves that for whomever runs against Pearce in the next election cycle. No one is entitled to financial well being, not for a day or a week and certainly not for a lifetime. You work for it. Do some people need a helping hand? Absolutely!! And, Vermonters are some of the most generous people in helping their neighbors out. But no one is enitlted to financial well being… no one. It’s such a ridiculous statement from our treasurer I can’t actually believe she even made the statement.

    • Steve Baker

      Isn’t this really proof that the lieutenant governor’s job could be illuminated in the savings go back to the taxpayer?

    • John Grady

      Jamie Carter

      “The vast majority of this is vague mumbo jumbo with nothing in the way of realistic and practical ideas.”

      That is what i thought when I read it. Nothing there, just Hope & Change, Making America Great Again nothingness.

      If the FREE Market fails to provide economy housing, dorm style safety net
      housing should be available and designed to be low cost to build. It
      could include a chow hall.

      Emergency housing could be in Camper trailers with a service building to provide food and showers. Go to a truck stop and see how simple it is to have a grill and bathrooms and a few private showers.

      long term economy condo’s and small starter
      homes are needed and well insulated ones so energy bills are low.
      Exempt the first $100,000 of home value from property taxes so small
      cottage size places on small lots are viable. Phase out the property tax
      exemption on higher valued homes.

      Change zoning so non-profit housing groups can build a few cottage type places with shared parking on a small lot or a few condo type places.
      The key is ownership so people build equity and to keep opportunists from making a quick buck flipping them apply a massive capital gains tax on short term profits so they have to hold onto them for 10 years or get killed on capital gains taxes or sell them back to the non-profit that built them.

      American’s used to have problem solving skills and vision. Now spoiled people born on third base throw massive amounts of money trying to fix simple
      problems. Innovation, thinking outside the box, test marketing, used to
      be normal and now the herd of sheep are like lemmings headed for a
      cliff.

      Accept the fact some people will be wards of the state while others need a hand up or break and others are just down on their luck and need a temporary safety net until they get back on their feet.
      One size doesn’t fit all.

    • Kai Mikkel Førlie

      Spoken like someone who’s been completely hoodwinked into believing that people should only “get what they work for”. Total nonsense. Anyone who’s researched (or, better yet traveled to) a country like Norway (for instance) knows how misinformed and ignorant this belief is. How sad that we here in the United States of America – the wealthiest country in the history of the world – can’t see fit to provide a basic level of financial well-being to all. Instead, we allow the obscenity that is our current stomach-turning wealth divide to exist. We allow the ultra-rich obscene luxury at the expense of the rest of us. Were our priorities arranged correctly, we could eradicate poverty in a generation, virtually eliminate violent crime (and most other crime as well), transform our society from one that preys on the uneducated and exploited into one resembling those that exist in countries that continually top the indexes of happiness, contentment, etc. Listening to folks like Jamie Carter is what has placed us in the dire mess we are in. It’s well past time that we look around the world and adopt the best of the best in terms of social contracts that provide state sponsored education, state sponsored healthcare, job training, empowerment, liberty and justice. The rest of the industrialized world has been shaking its collective head at our dismal system since after the 2nd World War. We’re an embarrassment. Oh, and those same folks are eating our lunch too, when it comes to effective productivity and ‘being civilized’. What we put up with in this country is a disgrace.

      • Jason Brisson

        “It’s well past time that we look around the world and adopt the best of the best in terms of social contracts that provide state sponsored education, state sponsored healthcare, job training, empowerment, liberty and justice.”
        1) How does promoting “best of the best” statism, result in better education, greater personal liberty, better environmental justice, greater individual empowerment, and better training for jobs of the future?
        2) No one signs a contract by being born.

      • Jon Corrigan

        First, it’s difficult to compare a country, with a population and GDP equivalent to the state of Colorado, with the entire United States.
        Additionally, Norway is more homogeneous than the U.S., and adopts the attitude that subsidiarity trumps subsidies, something we’ve lost here in the last few decades.

    • Neil Johnson

      There is an accurate saying, If you want to be a millionaire in Vermont, Bring 2.

      People don’t move to Vermont to become wealthy. Actually people aren’t even moving to Vermont are they?

      Perhaps some self reflection from our leadership might be beneficial.

  • I’m missing something. Why are people in poverty? Is it that the public education system failed them? Is public education the problem? Have their families abandoned them? Do their families bear any responsibility?
    Is it they don’t have skills that are valued in in the free market?
    Is it them, themselves?
    Does anyone ever dig themselves out of poverty?

    • Rich Lachapelle

      Why should anyone put in a lot of effort to dig themselves out of poverty when the State of Vermont continually bends over backwards to redistribute the treasure of those who do contribute to society?

      • Dominic Cotignola

        Part of doing business. Much like you will always have shoplifters. Poor people do contribute to society, however, lift the wages of low skilled jobs and you will solve your problem of contributing. When that doesn’t happen, you have redistribute the wealth within a country in some form. This would be a lousy country to live in if there was no safety net at all.

        We all know how to solve the problem. Lift the wages of jobs. Cold hard cash solves the problem. Not tax credits for this and that.

        • Neil Johnson

          Check out Carlos in another Vermont Digger article. He shows all Vermonters how to get out of poverty and he’s here illegally from Mexico. He supports two households and has a higher net worth than 40% of all Americans, he’s only been here a couple of years. (40% of Americans have a net worth of $0)
          It matters not how much cold hard cash you have, it matters what you do with said cold hard cash. 35% of lottery winners prove this by going bankrupt within 5 years, this happens every single year, all the time.

          The state of Vermont thinks that making a much higher budget than the previous year, then cutting back to an amount higher than previous year is…..cutting a budget. When what they are doing is spending more money every year.
          The handling of money is not taught by our state, or perhaps it is and that’s why everyone is broke.

          • Jon Corrigan

            One third of our state budget comes from the federal government, which has to borrow just to pay interest on the $20 trillion debt.

    • Dominic Cotignola

      We have a class system in this country. You will never do better than your parents. In reality, since the beginning of the country. That’s been the case. Even if you went to college. Of course there are few (very few cases) compared to the general population.

      Look at your total income that you will make over your lifetime and compare it to your parents. Comes out the same or slightly better. The middle class “feels” rich because of the availability of credit. Not because they are doing better financially than their parents. Learning how to manage that credit, keeps you out of the poor house which few know how to do.

      • Steve Baker

        IMHO that’s totally false. The American Dream has always been for your children to do better then the Parents(back before the government got so involved with the huge safety net). I’m in my late 50’s, almost everyone I know has done better then their parents because our parents weren’t our friends rather they were examples of hard work and determination.

        And if you want to discuss money today vs money 30 years ago….that was ruined when we moved off the gold standard.

      • Dominic Cotignola

        Does one really know “how well” a family is really doing? I can’t look at everyone’s tax returns. Are they putting up a front to keep up with the jones? How many times has one said “wow, I thought those people were doing really well”, how did they lose the house? They lost the house of their dreams because they were not living within their means. They felt “rich” for a lack of a better word because they had $30,000 of equity in the house and $100,000 in their 401k. They just spent every dime they had from week to week and had $50,000 in credit debt to keep the grass green so the neighbors wouldn’t complain.

        The statistics don’t match up to the reality. One really doesn’t know what the “American dream” is all about. I’ve been out of the country and there are a lot of countries that have more people living the American dream than Americans do. Most of the countries have large social nets to help to move on up the ladder. Not in America though.

  • Are immigrants who come to Vermont penniless, not knowing the language, low-skilled, and etc. destined for poverty?

    • Neil Johnson

      Carlos is way ahead of most Vermonters and he’s here illegally. (see VT Digger article) He gets it, most in government have no clue, you can see it in how they handle money.

      They don’t allow people to live modestly, build homes under $100k. They make it difficult to have inexpensive transportation. They create a monopoly health care system that is stealing from everyone.

      Carlos came illegally from Mexico, has no “safety net” and is way ahead of most people. Probably didn’t blow his money on fancy cable tv, cell phones, fancy cars, etc.

      How can he do it and everyone else fails? He understands how to live below his means, meanwhile all the Americans are in debt and penniless.

  • John Klar

    “Paid family and medical leave” will assist affluent workers more than destitute children. I am reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith’s “The Culture of Contentment,” revealing how the middle class appropriates government services to itself — here, by D Zuckerman while chairing a group to help the very poor. Strange days indeed….

    • Michelle Fay

      Nope. Low income folks are much more likely to increase their leave-taking when paid family/medical leave is offered. And given that the current proposal caps the wage replacement at 2x livable wage, it is targeted to help working Vermonters at the low end of the income scale. There’s lots of data out there on this – don’t believe everything you think!

      • Matt Young

        What happens to the employer who is just getting by and cannot afford to pay for non-performed work/production? Do they not hire in the first place? Go out of business? Move to another state or country?

      • John Klar

        Well, thanks for that info — but is itself skewed? I wasn’t
        believing what I think”, but mulling on what Galbraith observed. Family leave drives up costs for employer and consumer, which together may undercut job growth. I’m not against family leave, I just find it dubious that it relates to helping the very poor. I didn’t know about the cap, though, which is relevant — thank you.

      • Neil Johnson

        Family planning, if you can’t afford to feed yourself and prepare for a new child…………why would you bring a child into abject poverty?

        Why do people choose this? It’s not 1950.. we have birth control. Women have complete and total choice of bringing a child into the world. Why do they refuse family planning?

  • Mary Daly

    You stop making it harder to do business in the State so the low income can get jobs and support themselves. Mandating wages, benefits and more rules are hurting, not helping.

    • James Hall

      The left wingers have fixed it so that options for a cross section of jobs open to all segments of society are very limited, both in terms of numbers and the types of jobs. Johnson’s war on poverty started in the 60’s and has very little to show for the trillions spent since that time. We do not learn. Lessons being learned from the 60’s are being ignored, and the attempt to spend more money is always the first thing looked at. A thriving economy, with jobs for all is the best eradicator of poverty. Handouts should be temporary, with an expiration date attached, not a way of life. We have that concept totally backwards in Vermont.

      • JohnGreenberg

        James Hall and Mary Daly:

        If VT has such a terrible record of over-regulating business, shouldn’t the result be fewer available jobs? Wouldn’t that be reflected in high unemployment numbers?

        Please explain why Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the US if it is so horrible for employers.

        • Edward Letourneau

          Simple. If you are not drawing an unemployment check, you are not counted as unemployed. — And it runs out after 26 weeks. Connect the dots.

          • JohnGreenberg

            “If you are not drawing an unemployment check, you are not counted as unemployed.” Sorry, but that’s simply false. There are 2 unemployment surveys used regularly. Neither works this way.

          • Edward Letourneau

            Wrong. First they count the number of people drawing unemployment and divided it by the guesstimate of people in the labor pool. — If you are not drawing UE, the number is lower, and the percent of the unemployed is lower. Both number are a guess, since if an individual is not drawing UE, it is assumed they are working. The published rate does not provide a factual number.

        • Neil Johnson

          Most Vermonters work two jobs. Low unemployment doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing well.

          If we are such a bastion of economic paradise, how come everyone is leaving our state?

          • JohnGreenberg

            Neil Johnson:

            I said nothing about being a “bastion of economic paradise.”

            I suggested that a state with low unemployment must, by definition, have either employers or opportunities to be self-employed.

            That, in turn suggests that Vermont’s business regulations are not so onerous that businesses can’t survive here, which is what James and Mary contended above. If the onerous regulations forced businesses out of state, unemployment would result, unless other businesses were hiring. What am I missing?

        • James Hall

          Because the percentage of retirement folks is so high…… Retirement folks not working do not normally contribute to unemployment numbers, like the regular work force does.

          • JohnGreenberg

            From which you conclude what? Retired people, by definition, do not participate in the labor economy. Business regulations don’t affect their employment prospects, because they don’t have any. What’s you point?

      • Dominic Cotignola

        I disagree. Jobs for all never will decrease poverty.

        We have to get away from the Job discussion as a way to decrease poverty.

        80 percent of the job loss in this country is due to efficiency and creating a better bottom line. Not due to jobs moving to China or Malaysia. Look how many jobs are created building an overpass bridge in 2017 compared to the 1960’s. We don’t need a full workforce to make this country work anymore. There are no answers yet.

  • Dave Bellini

    Everyone agrees with the goal of ending poverty. These exact issues have been discussed repeatedly for 30 years. “Success” shouldn’t be getting people on government assistance. Success should be programs that lead to self sufficiency. More people on section is program failure. People earning enough to not need section 8 is program success. Call it socialism but unless politicians address wealth inequality nothing will change.

  • Steve Baker

    Would it be considered hate speech or harassment to make the honest assessment that Hard work and capitalism is responsible for more people getting out of poverty then all the Great intentions of Government programs combined.

    • Neil Johnson

      I think the term they are using is:

      “the wrong ideological persuasion”

      See gentleman who was given a no trespass order for the audacity to keep South Burlington high school’s team name. I was terrified to mention personal responsibility, for fear of being labeled something derogatory. Who knows maybe they’ll call me pragmatic next.

  • Steve Baker

    “We need to make sure that everybody has a chance.” Don’t we already do that with all of the social safety net programs we have including one of the most expensive public school systems in the entire country ?
    We as a country have equal opportunity to all. But we don’t guarantee equal outcome.
    Friedman is good at predicting accurately the ongoing outcome of Low income and poorly educated people. Is it hate speech to consider the root causes and life choices that result in poor education in low income?
    It seems extremely unrealistic to say “every single Vermonter is “entitled” to Financial well-being”. I feel entitled to my paycheck every two weeks because I work really hard.

    Our State Gov is like a architect with a crumbling building, they patch it with putty and add another story. Rather than adding more state bureaucracy and programs, the state should get out of the way and promote businesses and growth of businesses that result in training and higher wages.

    • Dominic Cotignola

      Therein lies the problem. The higher wages never keep up with the real cost of living as more “jobs” increase. As the cost of living rises with more jobs and more population increase, you have the same amount of people in poverty who need a social safety net to support the “richer” middle class.

      Social safety nets decrease crime, save lives, give people a chance to climb the ladder per say, which is harder than ever.

      If anyone remembers the 1970’s, you’d understand.

      • Steve Baker

        A safety net for the truly needy not for people who choose not to work or choose not to get educated or the illegals.
        There has to be a consistent incentive to be a better person to be more productive.
        Whatever happened to the basic economics theory you can’t consume more than you produce ?

  • John Grady

    http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/133403-we-should-do-away-with-the-absolutely-specious-notion-that

    “We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that
    everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten
    thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of
    supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in
    recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs
    because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some
    kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he
    must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and
    people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The
    true business of people should be to go back to school and think about
    whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and
    told them they had to earn a living.”


    R. Buckminster Fuller

    Book at Amazon

    The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression

    Hardcover

    – March 21, 2017

    by

    Peter Joseph

    (Author)

    “Society is broken. We can design our way to a better one.”

    200 years ago 1817 was the horse and buggy days not to far removed from Fred Flintstone. We now have the ability to let machines do most of the work and people clinging to the notion people need to work 40 hours a week and there is somehow going to be jobs that pay enough for everyone to earn a 1990’s style standard of living with 2500 square feet homes and 2 late model cars and the rest of the so called middle class lifestyle.

    Reality is McJob Nation only has 60 million jobs paying $40,000 or more and 120 million households many of which have 2 jobs that pay $40,000 or more so using 3rd grade math it’s easy enough to figure out there is no chance everyone is going to EARN decent money no matter how hard they work at it.

    Automation of our vehicles to remove the need to drive them will destroy millions of jobs. Auto body shops will be gone as will the need for road signs & road markings. A display in the car or bus can show the information. Ford, GM & Toyota will likely own massive fleets for hire, push a button on a cell phone and a car shows up to give people a ride and buses will be cheaper. Auto dealers and gas stations will no longer be needed. The fleet owners will fuel and service the vehicles and have a huge incentive to design stuff that doesn’t break so they don’t have to pay a human to fix things. Traffic cops, traffic court, DMV all history. Insurance agency jobs gone. 200 years ago none of it existed.

    http://naturalsociety.com/80-percent-processed-foods-us-banned-other-nations/
    “80% of pre-packaged foods sold in the United States are actually banned in other nations.”

    The stuff is garbage and creates tons of garbage for landfills.

    Our post WW2 economy and society is massively wasteful and a giant rat race with tons of people killing themselves in various ways while many people cling to the insanity of it and defend it after being indoctrinated into it and becoming institutionalized into the American Culture which is a massively wasteful rat race. People that have no vision live in a black and white world, it’s either A or B so they flip out if anyone mentions change.

    We could have 3 day 24 hour work weeks. One parent always home with the kids. A creative class free to be creative. A working class able to have decent housing, food & health care as a minimum safety net. As long as people cling to America’s post WW2 Culture the under class will keep growing as middle class jobs keep vanishing like they have been for over 50 years. We have a very large segment of society wasting the fruits of other peoples labor and some much waste in our culture it’s unreal. It’s also trashing the planet so Yuppism needs to go into the history books so we can move forward instead of clinging to a system that is failing.

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