Really, House Democrats? Shelter vs. Child Care?

Oh, boy. House Democrats, desperately searching for a way to spend as little money as possible while ducking responsibility for the crisis waiting for us at the end of the emergency motel voucher program, have come up with a real doozy.

They’re offering to put up another $20 million in housing-related spending — but they put one hell of a turd in the punchbowl.

The new, one-time $20 million appropriation for unhoused Vermonters will come out of a $92 million line item that was initially set aside in the budget for child care.

Oh, come on. Those are the only choices we get?

What’s the reasoning here? There’s only so much money for compassionate purposes? You couldn’t find the cash anywhere else? Really?

This sets the stage for a needless battle between housing advocates and child care advocates, two groups that should be able to expect better from Democratic leadership.

The $20 million plan is no great shakes either. Half the money would go to purchasing vacant manufactured homes. That’s a nice idea, but $10 million would only buy 250 units — enough to accommodate a mere fraction of the Vermonters about to be kicked out on the streets. The other half would go to “supportive services,” which would be a poor substitute for providing actual, y’know, shelter. Check Maslow’s Hierarchy if you don’t believe me.

Housing advocacy groups have asked for $72 million to extend the motel program plus $40 million to expand shelter capacity. If that seems like a lot, well, is it so much that you’d rather deprive a couple thousand Vermonters of shelter?

VTDigger reports that the voucher program “is deeply unpopular with the administration and lawmakers, who see it as a massively expensive stop-gap that does little to address root causes of homelessness.” All true. But whose fault is that? It’s the administration and lawmakers who have failed “to address the root causes of homelessness.” And it’s the homeless who are about to pay the price.

Did leadership set up this housing/child care fistfight because they were afraid of how Gov. Phil Scott would react if they took the money from somewhere else? Like maybe his pet economic and workforce development boondoggles, for instance? Trying to placate Scott is a stupid idea because he’s already laying the groundwork for a veto of the House budget. If you’re likely to face an override vote anyway, why not craft a budget that doesn’t punish the homeless?

Or, why shortchange our most vulnerable when state tax revenue continues to outpace expectations? February was the fifth month in a row with higher than projected revenue. The extra money amounted to $203.6 million in February alone.

Some of that excess is in the Education and Transportation funds — but the General Fund took in $25.6 million above projections. So don’t tell me we can’t afford to do a better job of housing the homeless.

Sure, the gravy train will grind to a halt sooner or later, and I’m not calling on our budget writers to empty the treasury. But we’ve got enough resources to avoid a humanitarian crisis. It’s a matter of priorities.

Speaking of gravy trains, in poking around for information about this post, I came across a story from August 2020 in which state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr projected “massive” revenue losses in the ensuing two years.

I’m not saying they’re wrong now, but why should we assume they’re right this time?

Okay, let’s set aside future revenue. How about the state’s rainy day fund, which has enjoyed robust health for several years now? We may not be facing a rainy day across the board, but a couple thousand-plus Vermonters are fixin’ to get awfully wet after they’re forced out of their shelter.

You may or may not like any of those ideas, but the point is that we’re not so cash-poor that we have no choice but to evict all those people. Here’s something I’ve learned about the Legislature: If they really want to do something, they find a way. If they don’t, they find excuses.

$20 million is a good start. It’s not enough. And for Pete’s sake, it doesn’t have to be done at the expense of child care.


2 thoughts on “Really, House Democrats? Shelter vs. Child Care?

  1. Ron Jacobs

    Thank you for writing this. Once again, the Vermont Democrats prove their real interest is not in helping working people, but in appeasing those who donate the most to their party.


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