Huzzah, huzzah, the great amorphous bipartisan centrist policy apparatus has burped out another moral failure. I’m talking about Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to wind down rental assistance and emergency housing, which belies his perpetual commitment to protecting the most vulnerable.
Well, yesterday, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee, including its Democratic majority, signed off on the plan.
Does this help explain why so many Democrats were happy to vote for the Republican governor, or why so many were uneasy at the prospect of fierce housing advocate Brenda Siegel becoming governor and putting everybody’s feet to the fire?
To be fair to the distinguished panel, they didn’t have much choice. The Legislature isn’t in session, and the JFC (unfortunate acronym alert) doesn’t have the authority or time to craft a replacement policy. But it would have been nice to hear a little more kicking and screaming.
We did get some pushback from Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, vice chair of House Ways & Means. “I am having trouble seeing my way towards March, April, when a lot of people will be handed tents.”
Tents. And we like to call ourselves the greatest country in the World.
If Kornheiser tried to inject some humanity into the discussion, we also got a nice example of bureaucratic obfuscation. Deputy Administration Secretary Doug Farnham said the state is faced with “hard decisions,” and that it was “impossible to find a perfect” solution.
Yeah, “hard decisions” that don’t affect anyone who’s making those decisions. Farnham added that ““I would be lying if I said there would be no impact… to those populations,”
By “those populations” he means “the people who’ll be living in tents.” But “populations” nicely obscures the real-world impact of “hard decisions” made by comfortable people in comfortable spaces.
The “good news’ is that Scott’s plan will solve the cosmetic problem of people being kicked to the curb in the heart of winter, since the phaseout will be delayed until the end of March. But we’ll be right back here next fall, when those tents will provide no protection against the onset of cold weather.
The other “good news” is that up to $10 million will be diverted away from these emergency programs (the quality of “good news” continues to decline), to be invested in “permanent affordable housing,” which (a) is a drop in the bucket, and (b) will be spent over the next two and a half years, so it’s not helping anyone stuck with a tent this spring.
Look, I get the dilemma. Our beefed-up emergency housing and rental assistance programs have been underwritten by federal grants which are now going away. But how did a very proud state in the “greatest country in the world” get to this point, where we’ll be giving tents to the unhoused? Will we at least kick in some vouchers for state park campsites?
“We have a spending plan — but not a solution,” noted outgoing Rep. Mary Hooper, who’s finishing her tenure as chair of the House Appropriations Committee. There are, she added, “some real serious gaps still in how we’re going to serve the most vulnerable Vermonters.”
There’s that phrase again: ‘the most vulnerable.” See: every Phil Scott speech or press conference since 2015. The sanitized reference to “populations” and the sincere hand-wringing won’t change the fact that we are about to fail our most vulnerable in an extremely fundamental way.
But hey, at least we’ll still have money to give workforce-expansion grants to GlobalFoundr — what’s that you say?