Legislative Democrats are speeding toward a moral and political disaster of historic proportions. and either they don’t get it or they don’t care.
The House majority is prepared to approve a budget that will put nearly 3,000 Vermonters out on the street by the end of June*. They’ve decided to let the emergency motel voucher program expire on schedule. They’d resurrect a cut-down version for the winter months, because letting people actually freeze to death is cruel enough that it triggers their embarrassment reflex.
*Update. There are various figures for this. The highest is close to 3,000, but it might be more like 2,500.
But otherwise, hey, homeless folks, you’re on your own! Please don’t build encampments in public spaces or hang around our lovely downtowns. Please, if you can, simply disappear without a trace. We don’t care where you go, just go quietly.
Do the Democrats seriously think that passing some other modestly progressive legislation will insulate them from culpability in the human and economic tragedy that’s about to unfold?
Apparently they do. But they shouldn’t.
Background, for those just joining us: The voucher program was a creature of federal pandemic aid. Gov. Phil Scott has been trying to shut it down for the better part of two years, only to be shamed into allowing short-term extensions. He’s been afraid to own the spectacle of all those Vermonters losing their shelter, and now the Democrats are standing shoulder to shoulder with him in killing the program. It’s a tremendous political gift to Scott, eclipsing the Dems’ customary willingness to sing from the hymnal of fiscal conservatism.
In the FY2023 budget adjustment, the Democrats graciously extended the program from March 31 to June 30, with some cuts at the end of May. But they are refusing to extend it any further. They’ve accepted the Scott budget’s limit of $26 million in one-time funding for the program, quibbling only on how the money is spent.
This policy will be theirs. When we see pictures of mass evictions, stories about struggling Vermonters suddenly tossed into the void, and coverage of human service providers despairing at the chasm between demand and supply, the Democrats will not be able to shirk responsibility for it.
But perhaps the moral dimension is too squishy for your taste. Let”s talk practicalities. The coming mass eviction will put tremendous strain on our already overburdened social safety net. The costs of health care, social services, substance use treatment, and policing will rise. It will be more expensive to end this program that it would be to continue it until we can build shelter and housing capacity.
Stick that in your fiscal conservative pipe and smoke it.
I know the program has to end sometime, but there are ways to ease the transition to more lasting solutions. There is no need to head blithely toward the cliff, damn the consequences. There are plans that cost a reasonable amount of money. The Democrats are just choosing not to do anything.
It’s been clear for weeks. Orders have come down from on high. Consensus has been achieved. Notable progressives have been roped in on this. Only the most muted of dissents has been countenanced. At some point, Democratic leadership decided to accept Phil Scott’s policy and worldview. No wonder they can’t beat this guy. In far to many ways, they ARE this guy.
They’ve adopted the false gospel of fiscal responsibility, even when it means abandoning the most vulnerable of our neighbors.
This is your Democratic legislature and your Democratic Party, God help us all.
I remember a homeless man dying of cold in a doorway in Burlington. I know it’s spring now but I truly hope we never go back to being that society.
“In far to many ways, they ARE this guy.”
I’ve been thinking this for a long, long time. It’s all about pleasing the big money.