The legislature is scheduled to recess at the end of this week and with so many balls in the air, I'm going to save legislative updates for my next newsletter. Instead, I have some thoughts on progressive taxation as we close out the session and some opportunities to get involved.
Below you'll find:
- Covid Connections (#covidconnections)
- Opportunities to Participate (#opportunitiestoparticipate)
Feel free to hop around!
Monday, May 17th is Tax Day. I know the topic of taxes can spark strong reactions in Vermonters, yet taxes pay for things we like and share such as libraries, schools, roads, trash collection, and they are a valuable tool for closing the wealth gap. Taxes are part of how we each contribute to a Vermont that meets our needs.
This has been an incredibly difficult year that has delivered significant challenges for our health, parenting, increased isolation and fear, job loss, and an increasingly divided economy and political landscape. What gave me hope through the pandemic was how as the cracks widened, more was revealed to each of us— about our own needs, the needs of our neighbors, and the needs of our communities.
As Democrats and as Vermonters, we’ve done tremendous work over the last year to fill some of those cracks. Since last March, every Vermonter who wanted a spot to live and a bed to sleep in was housed. We expanded our food system statewide, so that restaurants could feed more of us, and we funded schools to deliver meals to students and families through the summer. These were essential, emergency interventions, and we were one of the few states that stepped up in this dynamic, urgent, way to keep people housed and fed.
But, ideally our work is not only to fill the cracks; we aim to repair them. We are using our investments to close the wealth gap and investing in social infrastructure: by strengthening systems and services that increase health and well-being; investing in workforce training and higher education; and sustaining a childcare system that’s accessible, affordable and meets working families’ needs. We are growing our stock of affordable housing and expanding broadband. When our legislative session wraps up this coming weekend, we will have done each of these things.
At the heart of this intensive legislative work has been responsive government and, of course, taxation. Families stepped up to take care of each other and invest in each other. Thousands of Vermonters accessed state services and benefits. But too many Vermonters struggled to access those services and learned for the first time that some of our systems are held together with duct tape and bailing twine.
Our unemployment insurance system, which saw an exponential increase in claims this year, relies on a computer system with formulas that were last reprogrammed in 1984. The failures have made some headlines, and the frustration and heartache of my constituents trying to navigate this morass haunts me. We know that the reimbursement levels aren’t enough to make ends meet for so many families, and we know that women and people of color have been disproportionately impacted by layoffs this year. Many parents can’t find new jobs because they’re still home caring for their kids, and find themselves dependent on insufficient supports.
This last week, I was proud to work on real repairs to our unemployment insurance system. We assembled a task force to look at the functioning of the system, the needs of beneficiaries, and the solvency of the trust fund. At a time when states across the country are pulling back on their support, when some states are even refusing to pay out federal benefits, the Vermont House is voting to add an additional $25 per week for ALL UI beneficiaries. We project this to pay out $100 million over the next 10+ years to Vermonters who are out of work.
We’re also hoping to take full advantage of federal tax changes this year. We were able to provide tax relief to working families through an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Care and Dependent benefit tax credit. For EITC, we’ve expanded the age range up and down — from 25 to 19 years, removed the 65-year-old cap to qualify, and increased the credit amount for single-filers.
EITC is considered one of the nation’s most successful anti-poverty programs, providing a refundable tax credit to low-income, working households, and Vermont’s is one of the highest in the nation. We’re pairing with federal changes to increase the Child and Dependent Care benefit helping families making up to $120,000 per year, so that parents and caregivers can stay at work. In doing this, we’re significantly expanding a benefit that helps low-income individuals and families, who are disproportionately women or people of color.
Over this last year, so many of our assumptions about what makes a strong economy have been confirmed: meaningful social supports that people can depend on, investments in infrastructure improvement, responsive governance, and progressive taxation. I’m closing this session and this tax season hopeful about all we’ve accomplished, and even more clear eyed about all that’s left to be done.
Do you want to get more involved in a political campaign or run for office yourself? There are a few great new opportunities for training. Please reach out if you want to discuss any of them!
The Bright Institute trains and support Vermonters who identify as Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) to run and lead. You can learn more here.
Rights and Democracy trains movement champions to run and win. These trainings are inclusive of gender and racial identities and folks who identify as left-leaning movement builders regardless of political affiliation. You can learn more here.
Last but not least is Emerge Vermont. Emerge Vermont is the state's premier organization that recruits, trains and provides a powerful network to Democratic women who want to run for office. You can find more information about their memo of trainings here. * More Vaccines are here: ALL Vermonters 12+ are now invited to register for COVID vaccines! In Brattleboro there are appointments available this week. Register for a vaccine appointment here (preferred), or call 855-722-7878. You will be asked to provide your name, date of birth, address, email (if available), phone number, and health insurance information (if available, but not required). If you have any challenges with sign up please reach out to me. There are pop-up clinics all around the state so if an appointment sounds complicated, you can find open sites at the same link. * We recently were able to reinstate both rental assistance and utility assistance programs. You can learn more about both locally through SEVCA here or by going to the Vermont State Housing Authority here. * Unemployment assistance continues to be problematic— extended benefits should be available and new work search requirements are complicated— if you need any help, please be in touch.
As always, please connect with me through: * My weekly virtual coffee hour every Sunday at 11am, registration link here ; * The Montpelier Happy Hour where I unpack legislation with Olga Peters each Friday. We’re on ITUNES now, you can subscribe here. These last couple weeks we discussed federal funding, and The Vermont Proposition with the Council on Rural Development; * My newsletters and social media feeds (facebook, twitter, insta links below.) You can find past newsletters on the “blog” tab of my website here.
And please keep in mind, I’m still available for help navigating any services (or lack thereof) with you: unemployment insurance, housing challenges, health care. Now more than ever, I’m honored to do this work with all of you. Thank you, and please be in touch.
Yours in solidarity,