On Monday, Governor Shumlin announced a series of initiatives to end child and family homelessness in Vermont by the year 2020. I didn’t really give it a thought, honestly; these dates and deadlines are announced with much fanfare; but as with sports prognostications, nobody ever checks up on the outcome. Besides, Shumlin will almost certainly not be Governor when his promise comes due.
The strategy does appear well-crafted and will most likely do some good, although it’s short on resources and long on administrative rejiggering. (Not that there’s anything wrong with administrative rejiggering; it’s a good step. It just won’t build any housing.) And it’s an issue that needs addressing:
Among families with children, homelessness is on the rise. According to annual data collected from school districts and supervisory unions by the Agency of Education, the number of homeless children in Vermont has risen 46 percent during the past five years, from 784 in 2010 to 1,145 in 2014.
So yeah, good move. But did anyone think to ask this seemingly obvious question?
How can you say you’re committed to ending family homelessness when you’re making major cuts to human services programs?
To my discredit, I didn’t think of it either. One of our white hat lobbyists raised the question in a hallway chat. (Since it wasn’t explicitly on the record, I won’t name the person. If s/he wants credit, please get in touch.)
The Governor’s budget proposed $22 million in cuts to the Agency of Human Services, including $6 million for LIHEAP and $1.7 million from Reach Up. Within the strictures of his antipathy toward raising taxes, he did a decent job of spreading the pain. But still: he wants to end family homelessness, but his budget would make it harder for poor families to keep home and hearth together. Seems a bit contradictory, no?
The white hat put it in terms of a tax hike on the poor. Technically it’s not, but it is a reduction in benefits they would have otherwise gotten. It’s less money, less assistance in their pockets. (Especially with the LIHEAP cut, which rests on the iffy proposition that fuel prices will continue to be low for the next year.)
In that sense, it is indeed a tax on poverty. And it does seem at odds with the Governor’s well-publicized, well-intentioned push to end family homelessness.