Senate budget writers are rejecting parts of the House budget plan that would cut funding for emergency housing vouchers and human services grants.
According to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, the panel plans to have its budget finalized at the end of next week or the following Monday.
So far, the committee has not made final decisions about the appropriations in the bill. Kitchel expects that they will work through the money sections next week.
On Friday, the committee was working to finalize the language sections of the bill. The language sections of the budget often contain policy that has “tremendous” fiscal implications, she said.
The Senate committee disagreed with a House proposal to cut funding for an emergency housing program by $340,000 — a reduction that came under fire from housing advocates and some members of the House.
The program provides motel vouchers for homeless people on cold nights.
“No one really wants to encourage the use of motel vouchers. There’s common agreement on that,” Kitchel said.
However, Kitchel said the committee believes there needs to be some money reserved for emergency housing vouchers as a “last resort.”
The House offset the cut to the emergency housing program by setting aside $150,000 of one-time funds to help establish shelters in Montpelier and Rutland.
Senators agreed with the idea of building up capacity in homeless shelters, but there is a question about what resources are necessary, Kitchel said.
“The general view is the money that was included to do that wasn’t sufficient to address the need,” Kitchel said.
The Senate committee is also reluctant to accept a proposal from the House that would ask the administration to find $2.5 million in cuts to grants administered by the Agency of Human Services.
“Our committee is I think pretty uniform in its view that that is not a good practice,” Kitchel said.
The move would leave a lack of legislative oversight in determining which programs suffer as a result of the cuts, Kitchel said. Some grants from the AHS are used to pay community-based agencies to carry out statutory obligations, she noted.
The implications of cuts “really need to be well understood,” she said.
Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, a member of the Appropriations committee, was wary of issuing a blanket directive to the AHS to cut grants.
“It would be better in my view if the governor were to identify these cuts jointly with the Legislature,” Sears said. “Just asking him to do it, is like ok now we can blame him for cutting this.”
The committee is considering making other changes to the House budget, including potentially looking at funding for the EB-5 regional center.
Kitchel said that there is agreement that there is a need for the Department of Financial Regulation to regulate the program.
“The question is do we need an EB-5 kind of recruitment marketing office, or is that something that could be done regionally,” Kitchel said.
The committee is also considering the funding for Vermont Life Magazine, a publication of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, that does not make a profit.
“I think the fundamental question we need to ask: should the state of Vermont be in the publishing business,” Kitchel said.
Next week, as the committee moves into making decisions about the money being spent in the budget, the panel will consider funding for mental health treatment, higher education and for childcare, according to Kitchel.
“But how we do it, where the money is?” she said. “To be determined.”