Much of this legislative session focused on creating an equitable plan for recovery from the pandemic that invests in people and leaves no Vermonter behind. As part of that work, legislators embraced their responsibility to address racial disparities and began course-correcting the historical impacts of racism and social inequality.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the severe inequities in public health systems. For example, while Black residents comprise only 1 percent of Vermont’s population, they accounted for almost 5 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases in 2020. Highlighting a strong body of evidence, J.R.H.6 acknowledges systemic racism as a direct cause of the adverse health outcomes experienced by people of color in Vermont.
It also commits us to the “sustained and deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the state, actively fighting racist practices, and participating in the creation of more just and equitable systems.” It was drafted through the collaboration of impacted communities and gained the broad support of the Legislature and the Vermont Department of Health.
H. 210 creates a Health Equity Advisory Commission made up primarily of Vermonters whose lives have been impacted by historic inequitable treatment in accessing health care, while empowering their voices to develop an Office of Health Equity by no later than Jan. 1, 2023.
H.430 provides immediate increased access to health care for income-eligible pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status, by establishing a Dr. Dynasaur-like health care program. This coverage begins on July 1.
These undocumented women and children often work or live with their families on the farms and dairies that are essential to Vermont’s economy. Because of fear regarding immigration status being revealed, confidentiality is critical. We know that prenatal care and medical care in childhood can improve health outcomes over a lifetime, as well as reduce costs for both education and health care systems.
H.159 invests $150,000 in a process to be driven by communities of color and may include the creation of a minority business development center or authority. This legislation will also provide technical support for businesses owned by people of color in procurement of state contracts, improve language access and cultural competency practices within state economic development programs, and strengthen state data collection to better serve the variety of identities represented within the these communities.
J.R H.2 acknowledges and apologizes for sanctioning and supporting eugenics policies and practices through legislation that led to forced family separation, sterilization, incarceration and institutionalization for hundreds of Vermonters. These policies targeted the poor and people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as individuals, families and communities whose heritage was documented as French Canadian, French-Indian, or other mixed ethnic or racial composition, and persons whose extended families’ successor generations now identify as Abenaki or as members of other Indigenous bands or tribes.
The resolution recognizes further legislative action should be taken to address the continuing impacts of eugenics policies and the related practices of disenfranchisement, ethnocide and genocide.
Another of the glaring needs identified was bolstering personnel at the state’s Office of Racial Equity. When this office was created, the Legislature didn’t know the extent of how widely these services would be used and requested. The workload has continued to grow, with the director being flooded by requests to sit on committees and boards, meet with Vermonters, review policies and offer expertise to all three branches of state government.
It became clear that the needs of the office were far greater than one person could handle. To help, two positions were included in the budget, effective in the new fiscal year, July 1.
As with so much of our work, the above described actions are just part of the ongoing effort to create equitable systems that promote justice, dignity and health for all Vermonters.
May 21 marked the adjournment of the 2021 legislative session as well as UVM graduation. For the first time in close to 14 months I will not be waking up in the morning and sitting in front of my computer for often more than eight hours of remote meetings or classes.
I am looking forward to seeing my friends and neighbors on the bike path, at the Thursday night food trucks at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street or at one of our local stores. While the session has ended, know that I am still available to answer questions, help you connect with resources, and listen to your priorities. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-863-6705, or by mail, 67 Bayberry Lane.