MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order Monday creating a new council to combat poverty and announced plans to fund initiatives to help the state’s low-income residents.
The $2.2 million in new spending is directed mainly at helping low-income Vermonters secure adequate housing or shelter. Shumlin, in a news conference Monday to announce the initiatives, said the funding will be included in his budget that will be presented to lawmakers next month.
Shumlin declined to say, however, what might need to be cut as the state tries to close a projected $70 million budget gap.
“Governors have priorities. This is one of mine. … Vermont’s not the kind of place where we’re going to let Vermonters freeze in cold homes, where we’re going to let them freeze in the streets and where we’re going to sit back at a time when the federal government is making cuts to low-income Vermonters that make no sense,” he said.
Shumlin said the Governor’s Council on Pathways Out of Poverty will have between 10 and 30 members and meet three times a year. The council will focus on ensuring “that every Vermonter has the hope of a prosperous future in this state,” he said.
“As we know, we’re in a time right now where the gap between the rich and the poor in our country and in our state continues to grow, where the top 1 percent continue to prosper and where too many Vermonters and Americans are getting left behind watching their wages stagnate, having difficulty finding places to live, having difficulty staying in the place they live and losing ground in the economic battle for prosperity,” Shumlin said.
The state has faced cuts in federal funding for programs that aid low-income Vermonters. About 775 Section 8 vouchers, which help low-income Vermonters pay rent, have been lost due to federal cuts, he said.
The state cannot make up all those cuts, but he said his budget will target several areas where the state can make a difference.
Shumlin said he wants to double funding for Vermont’s rental subsidy program to $1 million. The program helps families stay in their homes.
“This is a way to avoid having to use motel rooms, which we’ve had a lot of debate about in this state, and instead keep people in their homes,” he said.
Shumlin said he will also propose spending an additional $300,000 — $200,000 to replace lost federal funding — for emergency shelters.
“These resources will help us bring on more facilities, more beds, particularly in the winter months,” he said.
An additional $650,000 would provide alcohol and substance abuse counseling as well as mental health treatment services for Vermonters receiving state assistance. That funding would be matched with about $575,000 in federal dollars.
Child care will get a boost in Shumlin’s budget with an $800,000 infusion to help more families gain access to child care services, he said.
Finally, Shumlin said he is proposing $200,000 for Family Supportive Housing, a new project developed by the Agency of Human Services and Department for Children and Families that provides financial assistance and counseling for homeless families and seeks specifically to reduce child homelessness in Vermont.
Human Services Secretary Doug Racine said the initiatives announced Monday are more aggressive than efforts put forth in other states.
“These investments that the governor is proposing today will, indeed, make a difference. We’re doing as well as any state out there in trying to deal with the shredding of the safety net,” he said. “This is a huge initiative. This will make a huge difference that you aren’t going to be seeing in the rest of the country.”
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