It has been a busy week in the “virtual” Vermont State House as it was the last week for bills to pass the House so that they can be considered by the Senate in the second half of this session.
It was an especially busy time for me as the lead sponsor and reporter of H. 171, an act relating to the governance and financing of Vermont’s childcare system. This bill passed the House with a vote of 146 to 1, an incredible statement of the strong support of most legislators.
When children have access to high-quality early childhood education, it can close or eliminate achievement gaps caused by generational poverty, structural racism, and social inequity.
By investing in early education, we ensure that all of Vermont’s children have the opportunity to succeed individually so that we can live, work and thrive collectively. H. 171 continues implementation of the 5-year redesign we started with Gov. Phil Scott two years ago providing support for working families through expansion of the childcare family assistance program assuring that no family that earns less than 150 percent of the federal poverty rate will have to pay for childcare, and that families making up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level with receive some state support.
Solving the child care crisis is inextricably linked to creating a thriving economy with the workforce necessary to support growing businesses and that begins with a skilled child care workforce that is paid enough with the necessary benefits so that they too can have families that thrive in Vermont.
H. 171 sets the important goal that early childhood educators are fairly compensated and well supported and makes significant immediate investments in recruiting and retaining this vital workforce.
Loan repayment and scholarship funds for both current and prospective early childhood providers will go a long way in helping the workforce make ends meet.
You will also find in this bill a financing study that will, among other things, look into how we can have a long term financing strategy that expands financial assistance to more Vermont families, and explores how we can help early childhood providers receive benefits and compensation commensurate with their peers in primary education so that we won’t continue to lose some of our best trained early educators and child care providers to the public school system. This bill moves to the Senate starting in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in the coming days.
You can find the bill here: legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2022/H.171
Accelerating broadband deployment: The House granted preliminary approval for accelerating broadband deployment through H.360, which invests $150 million of new Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to support the construction of broadband assets in the most underserved parts of the state. The digital divide is real and has only widened since the start of the COVID pandemic. After a year of remote schooling, online medical appointments, and family Zoom calls, the need for high-speed internet for all Vermonters is even more clear. This bill will put critical coordination and financial tools in place to advance the state’s goal of achieving universal access to reliable, high-quality, affordable service.
Transforming transportation in the Green Mountain State: This year’s Transportation Bill (H.433, the “T-Bill”) represents a significant investment in Vermont’s roads, railways and bridges. While fully funding the fiscal year 2022 Agency of Transportation projects and programs, the infusion of new federal dollars also allows us to ramp up funding to cities and towns. The bill also uses one-time stimulus money to address climate change by providing more affordable, low-carbon transportation options to people across the state.
Transportation is transforming – internationally, nationally and here in the Green Mountain State. It’s a fundamental shift driven by technological change to electrified vehicles, as well as policy priorities regarding climate change and equity.
Many of the proposals in the Transportation Modernization Act have been rolled into the bill, including expanded incentives for electric vehicles and e-bicycles (with a strong focus on low- and moderate-income Vermonters); supporting smarter, denser planning through the Complete Streets program; improving access to EV charging stations for people who don’t live in single-family homes; fare-free public transit across the state through 2022; and bike safety.
With transportation accounting for 44 percent of Vermont’s carbon emissions, the T-Bill gives Vermonters the tools they need to switch to cost-effective, electrified options — while helping the state meet its carbon-reduction goals.
Investing in economic recovery:
H.159 invests in commerce and economic recovery across Vermont. It allocates $20.5 million to the Vermont State Colleges for workforce development, funding scholarships to help Vermonters finish a degree, return home from out-of-state postsecondary institutions to attend VSC, or pursue education and training in critical occupations like nursing, accounting, childcare and mental health counseling. H.159 also allocates $5 million to the popular Better Places program, which provides matching grants to create or revitalize public spaces in communities, and expands the Downtown Tax Credit program that helps owners redevelop or renovate income-producing buildings in our designated downtowns and neighborhoods. Finally, the bill allots $1 million to market Vermont as a tourism destination, provides wide-ranging support to businesses owned by people of color and stimulates innovation and entrepreneurism through targeted technical assistance, grants and loans.
Not all Vermonters have equal access to healthcare. Statewide statistics and studies show that people experience many barriers based on race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability status. Non-white Vermonters, for example, are less likely to have a personal doctor and significantly more likely to have depression. Nearly one in five COVID cases are among Black, Indigenous and persons of color, even though these Vermonters make up only six percent of our population. Adults with a disability are more likely to report poor physical or mental health, while LGBTQ adults are three times as likely to report seriously considering suicide. H.210 takes a step toward equal access for all Vermonters—and addresses structural racism—by creating a Health Equity Advisory Commission, mandating the collection and analysis of relevant data, and providing grants to support or create programs that improve healthcare access for Vermonters who have disabilities or are marginalized.
There are many more bills that passed the House this past week and are now headed to the Senate, you can find more information on the legislative webpage: https://legislature.vermont.gov. Hope you will reach out if you have any questions or concerns at email@example.com.