2022 Legislative Recap
That’s a wrap folks! Last Thursday, the 2022 legislative session officially came to a close “sine die” or indefinitely; meaning the General Assembly will not be returning for a veto override session unless prompted by Governor Scott. With unprecedented federal funding at their disposal and a coming election, this was another one for the history books–marked by both major victories and difficult defeats.
Read on to learn how VBSR’s core policy priorities fared in the final days of the session. As a member-driven organization, it’s leaders like you who make this critical work possible, so as always thank you for all you do and please don’t hesitate to reach out to VBSR’s Public Policy Manager, Jordan Giaconia with questions, comments, or concerns.
The Workforce and Economic Development Omnibus – What’s In and What’s Out?
After combining three of the session’s largest bills, H. 159, H. 634, and H. 703 into one massive economic and workforce development omnibus (S. 11), conferees from the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs gathered to hash out the differences between their respective proposals. Negotiations went on for the better part of a week with legislators meeting as late 11 pm early last week to put together the final compromise measure.
Here’s what made it into the bill and what ended up on the cutting room floor.
COVID Paid Leave Grant Program
After hearing from countless members about the challenges of grappling with the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely absences and lost wages, VBSR partnered up with our friends at Main Street Alliance to introduce the COVID Paid Leave Grant Program, formerly known as the COVID Worker Relief Fund.This program was Intended to serve as a state-based FFCRA tax credit– a federal benefit that gave a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement to employers in order to provide 100% wage replacement for their employees’ personal sick leave (up to 80 hrs) and 67% wage replacement to care for an individual, quarantine, and/or care for a child in the event of a school or childcare closure.
Leading up to the conference Committee we flagged language that would’ve essentially required employers to pay up to 33% wage replacement in order to access grants to cover the remaining 67%, which would’ve kept many of our state’s small businesses from accessing this program. After some back and forth with conferees, the final program appropriated $15.18 million in ARPA funds to the Department of Financial Regulation to administer the program. The Department will award retroactive and prospective grants to employers who offer COVID-19-related paid leave or unpaid leave equal to 100 percent of the greater of minimum wage or the employee’s regular hourly wage times the number of hours reimbursed up to 40 hours with a maximum hourly reimbursement or $21.25, and maximum total award per employee of $850.
Getting this program off the ground was no easy feat but our work was only made possible by the hundreds of local businesses and workers who mustered a powerful voice for this much-needed and well-deserved benefit. Toward the beginning of the session, VBSR and Main Street Alliance of Vermont released a letter signed by over 100 employers and over 500 workers calling on the legislature to create a program whereby employers can be reimbursed for paying an employee’s lost wages in the event of absenteeism due to COVID-19. This massive turnout paired with pressure from advocates in the building made clear that lawmakers needed to do more to support our businesses and our workers despite talk of Vermont moving into the “endemic” phase of the pandemic.
“At Vermont Glove, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that our valued employees have the ability to put health and safety first by supporting their wages when they need to be out for COVID-related reasons. This is not only the right thing to do but it’s the right business decision because it provides security and consistency for our workforce,” said Sam Hooper, president of Vermont Glove in Randolph. “We also know that this might not be available for all employers and workers, so we strongly support the establishment of a COVID Worker Relief Fund – so that no one needs to choose between a paycheck and their health.”
Please stay tuned for more details on how to access these grants and in the meantime please join us in thanking our local businesses and workers for sharing their support for the COVID-19 Paid Leave Grant Program!
BIPOC Economic Empowerment
Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) economic empowerment is a longstanding issue in Vermont and groups like theVermont Professionals of Color Network have done an incredible job filling these gaps with a limited budget and staff—creating a directory of BIPOC owned businesses, offering technical assistance, and networking with fellow business leaders. S.11, includes a $250,000 grant to take that work to new heights via business coaching and other training for BIPOC business owners; networking; and career fairs, workshops and paid internships.
VEDA Short Term Forgivable Loan Program
While many Vermont employers have done a tremendous job pivoting operations, adopting innovative practices, and supporting their communities in the face of a global pandemic, we recognize that there are still plenty of businesses who are still reeling from the continued public health and economic impacts of the pandemic. The Vermont Economic Development Authority’s Short Term Forgivable Loan Program is designed to provide businesses with the resources they need to endure and recover. S. 11 appropriates $19 million in ARPA SFR funds to the Vermont Economic Development Authority in FY 2022 to operate the VEDA Short-Term Forgivable Loan Program. Here are some key details when it comes to eligibility and awards:
- Businesses need to have experienced a 22.5% reduction in their adjusted net operating income in 2020 and 2021 when compared to 2019 (or another comparison as necessary.)
- Applicants also need to have either been in operation or had taken significant steps toward becoming operational as of March 13, 2020
- The Agency will consider previous State or federal pandemic-related assistance, noncash expenses, and other adjustmentsbut that shouldn’t keep you from applying.
- Maximum loan amounts will either be $350,000, six months of eligible costs, or the total cumulative decline in adjusted net operating income in 2020 and 2021–whichever is the lesser.
- More details on how to apply are forthcoming. Please stay tuned for updates!
Community Recovery and Reinvestment Program
Building on the successes of last year’s Capital Investment Grant Program, S.11 includes $10 million in funding for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to supplant the initiative with a new Community Recovery and Reinvestment Program. Another $30 million was also included in this year’s budget. ACCD will award grants to retain and expand existing businesses and nonprofit organizations, attract new businesses and nonprofit organizations, and spur job creation with special attention to communities that have stagnant and/or declining grand lists.
For-profits, nonprofits, or municipalities that are located in Vermont are eligible to apply meanwhile state and local government operated businesses, businesses with 20 or more locations, and publicly traded companies are not. Applicants will need to show that a project has community and regional support; that grant funding is needed to complete the project; that they are seeking additional sources of funding from other local, State or federal economic development programs; and that they have the capacity to manage the project. The maximum grant available will be the lesser of $1 million or 20% of the total project cost.
While VBSR’s member businesses and nonprofit organizations have typically enjoyed above average worker attraction and retention, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and Vermont’s growing affordability issues have exacerbated this crisis to the point that employers are experiencing challenges at every level of their businesses—from entry level through mid-level and managerial positions.
“VBSR has been advancing livable jobs, workplace quality, and inclusivity since our organization was founded. Despite this enduring commitment, Vermont’s affordability challenges are driving workers out of the state and pushing our businesses to their limits. If Vermont wants to address its workforce woes and create a truly just, thriving, and transformative economy, our state leaders need to make historic investments in Vermonters’ basic needs, and support communities and employers in their efforts to create places where all are not just welcome but belong. It’s the right thing to do – for Vermonters, our communities, and our economy.” Roxanne Vought, Executive Director, VBSR
S. 11 includes millions of dollars in investments designed to grow and strengthen Vermont’s workforce including but not limited to–
- $500,000 for the State Refugee Office to administer grants to refugee or New-American focused programs in an effort support in-migration and/or retention.
- $250,000 to the Agency of Administration to direct a new Special Oversight Committee on Workforce Expansion and Development.
- $1.5 million to the Department of Labor to launch a two-year pilot program to establish a coordinated regional system to increase local labor participation rates; decrease the number of vacant positions; bolster worker wages; and collect and distribute information on local career pathways with key workforce development partners.
- $300,000 to the Department of Corrections to create a pilot, community-based reentry program at Chittenden Correctional Facility for justice- involved individuals.
- $3 million to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) to launch the Vermont Trades Scholarship Program for students who demonstrate financial need.
- $15 million to the Vermont Housing Conservation Board to establish a Construction and Rehabilitation Learning Program and Revolving Loan Fund
- $1.8 million to the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to regrant to groups participating in the Vermont Serve, Learn and Earn Program–a celebrated program that offers paid service and learning opportunities for young Vermonters (more on that below.)
What didn’t make the cut?
With so many moving pieces it’s easy to forget some of the promising provisions that were included in the earlier iterations of S. 11 but ultimately didn’t make it over the finish line. Two of particular note–
- Language to increase Vermont’s minimum wage from $12.55/hour to $15/hour by 2025 was included in the Senate version of the bill but was ultimately struck from the bill during conference. Reports from their counterparts in the House indicated that increases in the cost of living in Vermont have created a de facto minimum wage of roughly $17.54/hour.
- The Senate version of the bill also included funding for another study on the merits of a Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave Program, however that provision was also removed from the bill during conference namely because House members felt the program had already been studied.
Writing and advancing this massive bill was a monumental task for advocates and legislators alike. If you have any Representatives or Senators on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee or the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs we hope you’ll take a moment to reach out and thank them for supporting Vermont’s workers, businesses, and our shared economy.
Legislature Fails to Override Governor Scott’s Veto of the Clean Heat Standard By One Vote
Earlier this month, Governor Scott announced that he was going to veto H. 715, the Clean Heat Standard. This bill was designed to efficiently and equitably decarbonize the Vermont’s heating sector and was hailed as the most impactful proposal included in Vermont’s first legally-required Climate Action Plan. The Plan emphasized that the creation of a Clean Heat Standard akin to Vermont’s Renewable Electricity Standard was an integral and necessary step in reducing our state’s climate pollution, as Vermont’s thermal sector is our second highest source of emissions.
Despite strong support from the Council and the legislature, Scott sent a letter linked here to the General Assembly outlining his concerns about the bill. His primary concerns were around how the proposal would impact energy affordability in Vermont. His concerns, while understandable, ignored the increasing volatility of fossil fuel prices and the many provisions designed to give Vermonters – especially low-income communities – the assistance and resources needed to transition to more efficient, cleaner, and affordable heating options.
VBSR joined with partners from the #ActonClimateVT coalition in opposing Scott’s veto and urging legislators to muster the votes necessary to overcome it.
“The clean heat standard is a tremendous opportunity to cut pollution from Vermont’s thermal sector at a pace and scale that is not only commensurate with the science but also flexible enough to ensure a just transition for wholesale fuel providers, retailers, and consumers,” said VBSR’s Public Policy Manager, Jordan Giaconia. “With millions of dollars in fossil fuel spending flowing out of our economy each year and oil and gas prices more volatile than ever, the Scott administration’s decision to veto this landmark climate bill represents a major environmental and economic misstep, and we urge the Legislature to overturn it.”
Despite our best efforts, the legislature secured 99 of the 100 votes needed to overturn Scott’s veto. This is likely to create some major challenges going forward considering the 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act requires Vermont to reach emission-reduction targets by 2025, 2030 and 2050 or face legal action. With the clean heat standard on ice, it’s clear that Vermont will not be able to meet those mandates.
Key Climate Action Investments this Session
Whether its increased storm intensity, flooding, longer summers, or shorter winters—the climate crisis poses an existential threat to our businesses, economy, and Vermont’s overall way of life, not in the distant future, but right now. As part of VBSR’s yearly survey, we polled members about their greatest climate risks. All told VBSR members indicated that Supply chain disruptions (48%), Employee health (44%), Cost of climate change mitigation/adaptation (41%) and Cost/scarcity of resources (41%) were the top issues impacting or threatening their enterprises.
While many have already implemented their own climate mitigation and adaption measures—much to the benefit of our environment, communities, and bottom lines— it was clear at the outset of the session that broader systemic changes and historic investments would be needed to ensure our state could justly transition away from fossil fuels and toward a more resilient clean energy future.
Despite some legislative setbacks, VBSR and our partners made some significant progress this session.
This year’s budget bill includes over $192 million in climate investments ranging from weatherization to municipal fuel switching. This marks yet another historic investment in climate action thanks in no small part to business advocates, committee leads, and house/senate appropriators.
The FY ‘23 Budget “The Big Bill” (H.740) includes key investments to decarbonize Vermont’s thermal sector including:
- $45 million in low Income weatherization funding to be disbursed by the Home Weatherization Assistance Program run by the Office of Economic Opportunity and local Community Action Agencies.
- $35 million in moderate income weatherization funds to be offered through Efficiency Vermont.
- $20 million in home electrical system Upgrades, more specifically these funds will be used to offer “financial and technical assistance for low- and moderate-income Vermonters to upgrade home electrical systems to enable installation of energy saving technologies,” through the Clean Energy Development Fund at the Department of Public Service.
- $5 million for the “Switch & Save” Heat Pump Water Heater Program designed to help low- and moderate-income Vermonters install heat pump water heaters at little-to-no-cost, through the Clean Energy Development Fund at the Department of Public Service.
- $2,000,000 for load management and energy storage for low- and moderate-income Vermonters, smaller electric utilities, and municipalities, through the Department of Public Service.
- $8,000,000 for matching funds for Advanced Metering Infrastructure for rural and municipal electric utilities, through the Department of Public Service.
- $45,000,000 to support municipalities with technical assistance, energy assessments and municipal weatherization, fuel switching and other potential energy-saving and resilience measures.
Thanks to the work of the House and Senate Transportation Committees, this year’s budget includes millions in innovative investments in clean transportation designed to help lower- and moderate-income Vermonters purchase electric or highly efficient cars; assist businesses in purchasing electric vehicle charging equipment; promote safer walking and biking infrastructure; offer zero-fare transit; and speed up the transformation to a clean transportation system. These investments are a necessary first step to advance the carbon reduction policies as required by the Climate Action Plan and were largely pulled from Transportation Innovation Act crafted by a number of House climate champs with help from VBSR. Key investments include:
- Electric and High-Efficiency Vehicle Incentives:
- $12,000,000 in Incentive Program for New PEVs
- $2,000,000 in Drive Electric Vermont.
- $3,000,000 in MileageSmart.
- $3,000,000 in Replace Your Ride Incentives.
- $50,000 in e-bike incentives
- Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) Grants: Expands the existing EVSE Grant by investing:
- $10,000,000 in Level 1, 2, and 3 EVSE dwellings, workplaces, and community attractions.
- $2,000,000 for public EVSE along highway networks.
- $4,250,000 in state and federal transportation funds are also dedicated in the Transportation Bill for Level 3 EVSE along the State highway network, in addition to the $2,000,000 in the budget.
- $1,200,000.00 to continue fare free transit in urban routes. This authorization will allow public transit providers to, as practicable, provide zero-fare public transit on routes other than commuter and LINK Express and restore service to pre-COVID levels.
- $1,500,000.00 for Mobility Transportation Innovation Act to support projects that improve both mobility and access to services for transit-dependent Vermonters, reduce the use of single-occupancy vehicles, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
With Healthcare Costs on the Rise, Legislature Works to Deliver Savings for Vermont Businesses
This year Vermonters have seen unprecedented increases in the cost of healthcare as ballooning hospital budgets continue to raise insurance rates for individuals and small businesses. As socially responsible business leaders, VBSR members pride themselves on running employee-first workplaces with livable wages and robust benefits. According to our latest membership survey, roughly 80% of our members offer health insurance coverage for their employees. It’s important to note however, that an earlier 2019 policy survey indicated that 20% of our members were spending at least 20% of their payroll to cover this benefit. That figure has no doubt increased with the rising cost of healthcare in Vermont.
For over 30 years, VBSR has advocated for health care reform—working with partners to help create a level- playing field in which all can access affordable, reliable healthcare. This work has taken on new meaning in the wake of COVID-19. Vermont families and businesses have experienced tremendous income losses since the start of the pandemic, casting light on the unsustainable cost of healthcare which has historically hampered our businesses, curtailed job growth, and created major barriers for Vermonters seeking care. Approximately 58% of our members identified the growing cost of healthcare as the biggest obstacle to the success of their businesses.
Merged vs. Unmerged Insurance
Last year, in an effort to deliver immediate cost savings to Vermont businesses, the legislature moved to allow individuals and small groups to purchase insurance in separate risk pools. This change, in concert with the Advanced Premium Tax Credit (APTC) included in the American Rescue Plan Act, allowed individuals to cap their premiums at 8.5% of their income when purchasing insurance in the exchange. Meanwhile, Vermont’s small employers were also able to decouple from the individual risk pool and drastically decrease their insurance premiums, as the small group market has traditionally kept the individual group market stable.
All told, unmerging the markets offered an invaluable financial lifeline to our small employers. Within the BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont’s network alone, small businesses saw a 6.7% rate decrease leading to roughly $10 million in savings.
With Congress expected to extended the APTC this year VBSR pushed the Vermont legislature to take immediate action to ensure that we are prepared to leverage said credit to the benefit of our small businesses and their employees. Vermont’s merged market has effectively shifted over $17 million in health care costs to Vermont’s small businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, and their employees. While our members are committed to keeping healthcare accessible for all Vermonters, these increased costs are hampering our small businesses who subsidize, both directly and indirectly, businesses that do not provide health insurance for their employees. Additionally, as the only fully merged market in the country, Vermont foregoes millions in federal funding that could otherwise be used to benefit our most vulnerable.
Thankfully, lawmakers heeded the call of businesses and healthcare reform advocates and included language that would once again allow the large and small group insurance markets to stay unmerged for another year–lowering premium rates for small businesses. The final language is available here.
Bolstering Vermont’s Healthcare Workforce
A major contributing factor to the rising cost of healthcare in Vermont is our local hospitals’ workforce shortages and
increasing reliance on travel nurses. Earlier this year, local hospitals asked the Green Mountain Care Board for significant budgetary increases–blaming their fiscal woes partially on increasing labor costs brought on by pandemic-related staffing shortages, which forced them to bring on more expensive travel nurses and other temporary staff. These contracted workers command much higher salaries than full time staff. For example, the average travel nurse’s hourly rate at the UVM Medical Center has ballooned from $75 to about $200 over the last 18 months.
Our healthcare providers have the difficult task of containing costs while also providing quality care that is commensurate with the needs of Vermonters. To help hospitals bring on new, local staff S. 11 included major investments to help address their workforce woes namely:
- $100,000 in forgivable loans for nurses
- $2 million in grants to support nurse educators
- $2.5 million for a nursing pipeline and apprenticeship program
- $2.5 million healthcare loan repayment program
- $1 million in nurse faculty loan repayment and forgivable loans
- $1.5 million in forgivable loans for mental health professionals
While there’s is little doubt that Vermont needs to make broader, systemic reforms when it comes to healthcare, these investments promise to support Vermont’s healthcare heroes, put people to work in family sustaining jobs, and help to provide near term savings to Vermont businesses.
Ensuring Reproductive Liberty for All
While many Vermonters have heard about the public health and ethical motivations to preserve reproductive liberty for all, as business leaders we also want people to be aware of the economic benefits as well.
In short, a Vermonter who can make decisions about their own reproductive health care, including whether to become a parent, use temporary or permanent birth control, or seek abortion care, is a Vermonter with greater control over their economic well-being.
Not having enough money to care for a child or support another child is the most common reason people give for wanting to terminate a pregnancy and Vermonters are justified in being concerned about the financial consequences of carrying a pregnancy to term. Because the responsibility of raising a child born after being denied an abortion falls disproportionately on women, restricting abortion access threatens their economic security. In fact, someone who is denied access to abortion and forced to give birth is more likely to experience household poverty lasting at least four years; more likely to not have the resources to cover basic living expenses like food, housing, and transportation; more likely to have lower credit scores and higher debt loads; and their children are more likely to live below the federal poverty level.
On other hand, states that have adopted policies that afford their citizens more control over their bodies are also the states where women have more opportunity in the labor market.
- Women living in states with a stronger reproductive health care have higher earnings and report less occupational segregation compared with women living in states that have more limited reproductive health care access.
- Women in states with strong reproductive health care climates are also less likely to work part time, providing them higher earning potential; more robust benefits such as paid leave and paid sick days; and more upward mobility in the workplace.
- Reproductive rights and health care access also reduce job lock, or the lack of labor mobility between jobs. Women who live in states with strong reproductive health care access, as measured by publicly available funding for abortion, are more likely to transition between occupations and from unemployment into employment.
Together, these findings only begin to paint a picture that clearly shows that a person’s ability to access the full range of reproductive health care services is strongly tied to their economic mobility and well-being.
Yet, across the country we are seeing direct attacks on reproductive rights and access to care is quickly approaching a crisis point. In 2021, state legislatures set a disturbing record of 108 abortion restrictions enacted across 19 states. In 2022, we’ve seen hundreds more restrictions put forward with new ones enacted in states like Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Alabama, and beyond with more to follow in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to effectively overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
The need for strong decisive action to permanently protect reproductive care has never been more urgent, which is why VBSR was thrilled to partner with community organizations and businesses from across the state in advancing Proposition 5, the Reproductive Liberty Amendment earlier this session. Thanks to our shared advocacy the Vermont House of Representatives passed the Reproductive Liberty Amendment (Prop 5) by a vote of 107-41–marking the final step in the four year legislative process.
On the heels of this historic victory, VBSR joined with the Vermont for Reproductive Liberty Campaign to announce that more than 1,300 individuals, businesses, and organizations had endorsed the Reproductive Liberty Amendment to date. You can check out the list of endorsers is now available on the campaign’s website. At a virtual press event, leaders from Burton, Ben & Jerry’s, Mamava, UVM Health Network, and VBSR shared why we endorsed the Reproductive Liberty Amendment, and why supporting reproductive rights is good for businesses, workers, and our broader economy.
“At a time when the fundamental right for people to choose their own destiny is now threatened in approximately half of the United States, Vermont is once again a beacon of light and hope.” Donna Carpenter, Co-founder, Owner, and Chair of Burton
The amendment will now go up for a vote on the 2022 General Election ballot this coming November to be decided on by Vermont voters.
Progress Made in Addressing Vermont’s Housing Crisis
At the outset of the session, VBSR wasted no time in emphasizing the tremendous impact Vermont’s housing crisis was having on our businesses and employees. We made clear to legislators that the availability of affordable housing ranked as the top barrier to success for VBSR businesses in our most recent survey and that any efforts to grow our workforce would need to be coupled with investments to help bridge the affordability gap.
We’ve shared some of this before but it bears repeating, many Vermonters are spending at least a third or more of their income on housing—hurting household buying power and stifling economic growth. Even more startling, the annual ‘Out of Reach’ report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition indicated that the average worker would need to earn roughly $24/hour to afford a safe, decent place to live in Vermont, yet the average renter makes less than $14 per hour—marking the sixth-largest affordability gap in the nation. VBSR member, Kelly Klein, summed up the impacts of Vermont’s growing housing crisis well in a recent op-ed.
“Like so many Vermont employers, I think of myself as creative, resilient, and ready to keep wearing the multiple hats necessary to help my team stay safe and sheltered. But I cannot do it forever and I cannot do it alone. Ultimately, Vermont can neither tackle our workforce issues nor build a more equitable economy without creating more abundant and accessible housing for our workforce.” Kelly Klein, founder and CEO of Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead
In response to these growing pressures, VBSR spent much of the session advocating for significant state and federal investment to increase Vermont’s overall housing stock and bolster access to housing for low-to-moderate income Vermonters. And while we did not get everything we were after the legislature largely delivered.
Missing Middle Income Homeownership
The Housing Omnibus Bill, S. 226 includes $15 million for the missing middle income homeownership program backed by VBSR and other housing advocates. VBSR touted this program as a historic opportunity to provide moderate income Vermonters with the resources they need to make a home here in Vermont.
For workers, Access to home ownership represents a significant opportunity to build intergenerational wealth and boost class mobility. For employers, it means a reliable, lasting workforce. While Vermont’s housing market should be able to provide quality homes for middle income workers, we have seen an unprecedented spike in the cost of housing—one that has created a value gap that is insurmountable for most working Vermonters. Vermont homes have appreciated 37% over the last three years meanwhile our developers are struggling with unprecedented material costs and labor shortages. These cost pressures are largely out of their hands and force builders to sell homes well above their appraised value to cover growing construction costs.
The missing middle income homeownership program will help to challenge this paradigm by subsidizing the construction of middle-income housing and bridging the aforementioned value gap. S. 226 provides $5 million in FY 2022 and $10 million FY 2023 to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency to provide direct project subsidies of up to 35% of the cost of develop and/or buy a home.
To qualify for this program a Vermont household needs to have an annual income of no more than 120% of the area median income. The total subsidy cannot exceed the value gap between the cost to build the home and its overall value and any funds left over from the developer subsidy will go to the buyer to help them shoulder the cost of purchasing the home.
Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program
Vermont has the most vacant homes of any state in the country and some of the oldest housing stock as well, especially when it comes to our rental housing. Of Vermont’s total rental housing stock, 80% is more than 40 years old, and nearly half of these units are more than 80 years old. While it’s imperative that Vermont invests in new housing stock, we cannot forget the thousands of homes across the state that are in disrepair. Many of which are owned by landlords who are not professional property managers themselves and/or are low-to-moderate income.
While some could raise their rental rates to cover the cost of repairs, this would price out the low-to-moderate income Vermonters searching for an affordable rental unit, many of whom are employees of VBSR members. Recognizing that offering landlords modest grants for home improvements is a proven, cost-effective way to encourage rental property owners to invest in their underutilized and ailing housing stock, VBSR leveraged a powerful business voice for the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program or VHIP.
S. 210, once the primary vehicle for a Vermont rental registry, includes $20,000,000 for DHCD to implement this program. The dollars will go directly to statewide and regional non-profit housing organizations to be doled out to property owners in the form of grants or forgivable loans for the rehabilitation and weatherization of rental units. Property owners can receive up to $50,000 per unit, but must also contribute matching funds or in-kind services that equate to 20% of the loan or grant. The bill also authorizes DHCD to spend up to $1,000,000 to establish a statewide education and navigation system to help homeowners in designing, financing, permitting, and constructing accessory dwelling units–smaller, independent residential units located on the same plot of land as a single-family home.
Making Progress Toward an Affordable, Accessible, High-Quality Early Childhood Education System
In 2021, Vermont legislature passed a comprehensive bill, H. 171, which took a marked step a toward achieving an equitable, affordable, and high-quality early childhood care and education system. While this is a huge victory, many early childhood education programs are still desperate to attract and retain educators and families continue to cite lack of child care as a key barrier to returning to work. Parents struggling to afford child care and early childhood educators woefully underpaid and undervalued.
Employers need talented, focused, and reliable employees – the lack of access to affordable and high-quality childcare is a major hindrance to maintaining that workforce and is consistently identified as one of the top 4 obstacles to the success of VBSR businesses. This not only creates an additional burden on our businesses during an already challenging time, but it also exacerbates historical gender inequities within our state as women are disproportionately impacted when it comes to caregiving.
The real scope of our child care problem becomes clear – not only for Vermont’s current businesses struggling to find employees they need to survive now – but Vermont’s ability to entice new businesses, recruit top talent, and attract more young families and working adults to our state,” Lisa Groeneveld, Co-Founder of OnLogic.
In 2022, VBSR’s focus was largely on responding to Vermont’s urgent child care workforce crisis and ensuring families are able to find and afford the child care they need to stay or return to work–spurring key investments in our child care system such as:
- $7 million in retention bonuses for our early childhood education employees working in regulated child care programs. These funds will go a long way in helping to retain these essential workers.
- $4.9 million increase in the Child Care Financial Assistance Program. CCFAP helps families overcome the cost of child care by offering payments to child care providers on their behalf.
- $3.44 million to expand Vermont’s Child and Dependent Care Credit, which provides a refundable tax credit up to 72% of the federal credit for all Vermont families paying for care out of pocket.
- $800,000 to expand child care capacity for infants and toddlers.
- $100,000 for a pre-apprenticeship program to help high schoolers pursue careers in Early Childhood Education.
According to Let’s Grow Kids’ latest report, for every $1 we invest in quality child care, Vermont would receive a benefit of $3.08. That means greater earnings and taxes for both children and mothers; lower health care costs; reduced K-12 education costs; and decreased crime, substance abuse, and child welfare costs in future. If we reach our goal of capping child care expenditures at no more than 10% of a family’s income, Vermont would experience a 1.3% annual increase in the state economy, or $375 million gain.
VBSR is proud to work alongside Let’s Grow Kids and their 40,000 plus supporters in empowering Vermonters to advocate for sustainable child care policy change and we look forward to making more progress in the sessions to come.
Thank You Advocates and Legislators!
To our members,
Socially responsible businesses have proven to be adaptive and resilient in the face of change and we cannot thank you enough for helping VBSR bring that innovative, entrepreneurial, and community-driven sprit to the halls of the statehouse. Whether you’ve donated to VBSR, responded to our action alerts, or offered your time and expertise to the policymaking process, your support is what makes this critical work possible, so thank you for all you do!
To the Legislature,
Thank you for your tireless work this year to address the near term and long term challenges impacting our brave little state! From workforce development and COVID response to climate change and housing reform, you all were given the herculean task of leveraging state and federal funds to help create a more just, equitable and thriving Vermont. After countless hours in Zoom hearings, committee meetings, and floor debates, you all deserve our gratitude and we look forward to working with many of you in the 2023 session!
If you don’t know who your state representatives or state senators are, now is the time to find out! Click here to find your legislator and join us in thanking them!