With Plenty of Misrepresentation and Condescension, Plus Some Astonishingly Retrograde Comments, the Vermont Senate Again Refused to Extend the Motel Voucher Program

In the above photo, Sen. Bobby Starr is expounding on the moral failings of the “able-bodied” poor lazing around in taxpayer-funded motel rooms while his colleagues try to conceal their discomfort. It was just one of many dispiriting passages in Friday afternoon’s meeting of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in which the panel briefly took up and immediately dismissed one last effort to extend the motel voucher program (the one that currently provides shelter to 80% of Vermont’s homeless) beyond the end of June.

Well. Now that I’ve dropped you directly in the middle of the story, let’s go back and set the stage. After the full Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to an FY2024 budget that would end the voucher program on schedule, two first-term solons — Nader Hashim and Tanya Vyhovsky — did something very unusual for a pair of rookies in the seniority-heavy upper chamber: They tested the patience of their superiors by submitting a last-minute amendment that would have dedicated another $20 million to the voucher program. (It would have also defunded the detestable remote worker grant program, but that was just a bonus.)

The figure was based on conversations with housing advocates, who believe it’s the minimum amount required to prevent a large-scale unsheltering of voucher recipients. But multiple members of the committee, including chair Jane Kitchel, dismissed the number as inadequate. Kitchel said the $20 million would run out by year’s end, meaning the program would require a midyear injection of funds. She refused to engage in what she called “deficit” budgeting.

Hashim, who presented the amendment to the committee, didn’t have the information needed to counter Kitchel’s assertion, and no one else was given a chance to testify. Committee members also claimed that spending more on vouchers would mean fewer dollars for permanent housing, as if it was impossible to shift money from elsewhere in the budget or even — horrors! — raise revenue to cover the cost. So you see, they said with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders, they had no choice but to end the voucher program.

I could go on, and I will, but let’s get back to Bobby Starr. You won’t want to miss this.

The summer, Starr said, was “The best time, I think, to move these people, especially the able-bodied people, out of these facilities and hopefully they go get a job.” He later returned to a thought that never should have escaped his skull:

The able-bodied, it’s time to go to work and have a place for them to work and earn and provide for their own, as far as I’m concerned.

This gets perilously close to “Welfare Queen” territory with its visions of lazy poors eating bonbons and watching TV. It reveals complete ignorance of the economic realities that force plenty of working poor into homelessness. And I shudder to think how the Vermont Council on Independent Living will view Starr’s repeated use of “able-bodied.” I eagerly await a statement of censure from caucus leadership and/or the Vermont Democratic Party.

Starr went full Snuffy Smith when he tried to get all financial.

How long does it take to get a million dollars in the hand? I mean, it takes tens of twenties of years to get that kind of money that you can kind of wash away or throw away.

Good God, where do I start? The “million dollars” I think was just a contextless Big Number he used to tell us money don’t grow on trees. “Tens of twenties of years” I’m not even going to try. But his point was that “we don’t have the money any longer. The ballgame’s over.” Thanks for playing, homeless Vermonters!

Enough of Starr. Let’s get back to what the “reasonable” senators were saying.

Ginny Lyons, chair of Senate Health & Welfare and member of Appropriations, was the only member who seemed genuinely upset over the potential human tragedy she and her fellows were enabling. “I’m very sensitive to the needs that we have in our communities,” she said. “Many of the people sitting in motels and hotels right now are just filled with fear.”

But there’s nothing she can do, because the opportunity to devise a sound transition plan has come and gone. “Last fall Senate Health & Welfare had a very special meeting with the administration to ask for a transition program. That did not happen,” she said. “The Budget Adjustment Act was an attempt to ask for that transition program.” Thus, she cleverly absolved her committee from any responsibility for ensuring that a transition plan was crafted. They tried, two whole times, and nothing happened. Oh, well.

And now it’s too late to do anything at all, she said. Indeed, multiple members claimed that any dollar spent on motels was a dollar taken away from permanent housing solutions. The assumption was that housing and vouchers are a zero-sum game, that not a single dollar can possibly be found elsewhere in the mega-billion-dollar spending plan.

I remind you of one of my axioms of legislating: If they want to do something they find the money, and if they don’t want to they cry poverty. Sen. Dick Sears spilled the beans, and quickly tried to put them back into the jar.

Unlike the federal goverment, we don’t have the ability to print money. If we can’t print money and we can’t raise taxes, at least under that the governor would accept, we can’t even raise fees for goodness’ sake I don’t think, so realistically those are the choices.

Oh. So the voters handed you a veto-proof majority but you can’t possibly raise taxes or fees because… the governor wouldn’t like it? Is that the messaging we’ll get from the Democrats when they’re fundraising for 2024? “Give us your money but don’t expect us to do anything hard.” Inspiring.

And that’s ignoring the fact that they could easily find $20 million in the budget if they really wanted to. But they don’t want to, for reasons I can’t fathom. I think it’s become a point of pride with them: They made a decision and they’re going to stick with it, come hell or high water.

Much was made, in the committee and on the floor by Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, that the motel program was costly and inefficient. Those rooms cost $170 a night! It’s practically highway robbery!

To which I say, who in hell negotiated those godawful terms? Did the Scott administration treat it as a giveaway to the hospitality industry because, hey, it was federal money anyway so why spend it wisely? Did the Legislature fail to press the administration because it was only Biden Bucks they were squandering? I’m sorry, but there is no fucking way the state couldn’t cut a better deal than that.

Sen. Andrew Perchlik went along with the consensus that housing advocates were way off in their cost estimate and that more vouchers would just take money away from permanent fixes. And then he practically patted Sen. Hashim on the head:

I”m glad that you kind of checked us on this,and said, “Hey this is serious, we know you say you’re ending the program, but we want to make sure that that’s the right choice.” So I appreciate you bringing this forward, but… I can’t support this.

See, Hashim and Vyhovsky didn’t present a viable plan. They simply “checked us on this.” Christ on a cracker.

Kitchel tried one last rationalization. Over the last few years, she said, networks have been created, teams have been funded, and there are now “partnerships that didn’t exist a couple years ago.” Maybe so, but those people are already desperately overworked. Kitchel also gave a nod to all of the local nonprofits ready to take on this tremendous additional burden she was plopping on their shoulders.

Well, she didn’t put it exactly that way, but she was clearly relying on the good will and dedication of the nonprofits and their staff to prevent the humanitarian disaster she can’t be bothered to prevent. Good luck with all that!

There were also hints from some senators that they were aware of critics like, um, Yours Truly, and they didn’t appreciate the treatment they’ve endured. “I keep hearing that this committee and other committees are not paying attention to this issue,” Lyons complained. Kitchel noted that she’d been criticized “for saying that some people do have some resources.”

Well, Senator Lyons, you may have paid attention but you didn’t do anything. And Senator Kitchel, you did say that. And the criticism you’ve gotten so far is nothing compared to what’s coming down the pike. Our news outlets are starting to pay attention to this story, and that attention is only going to grow as we move toward the voucher cliff and there are countless clickbaity tales of woe to be told.

They may think this all ended today when the full Senate passed the budget on to a House-Senate conference committee. They are sadly mistaken. They may also believe that the Scott administration will get the blame for whatever happens this summer. They are equally mistaken about that.

They can’t stand the heat, but they’re going to discover that they can’t get out of the kitchen.


4 thoughts on “With Plenty of Misrepresentation and Condescension, Plus Some Astonishingly Retrograde Comments, the Vermont Senate Again Refused to Extend the Motel Voucher Program

  1. Laura Souberin

    Nothing ever changes in Vermont. The Vermont eugenics mindset still exists. So, screw the poor and marginalized and most vulnerable citizens of Vermont. What do they matter anyway? The senate would not have to be bothered with the effluent of their own incompetence and apathy if only Vermont’s 1931 eugenical human sterilization law (two years before Nazi Germany’s sterilization law) was still being practiced. After all, Vermont considers its homeless merely the Untermensch, the subhuman, lives unworthy of living, useless eaters, the sentient detritus of a self-absorbed rural state forever superficially and obsessively concerned about its own insecure self-image. But we are what we do in this world, not what we say we do. Let’s not even begin to consider the principal judgement of a society: How a society treats its most vulnerable citizens. In that regard, Vermont doesn’t even pretend, which is unusual because Vermont culture is inherently self-serving, duplicitous and virtue-signaling. But then, you know, the principal definition of a sociopath, is one who violates the rights of others for their own personal gain at the expense of others. Please step right up to the podium Vermont, you win first place in that profane game yet again. So, when you lament your legion of pathological social ills, Vermont, for which you rate among the highest in the nation, be proud of what you have created – the wretched dehumanizing pit in which you reside.

    1. zim

      “…Vermont culture is inherently self-serving, duplicitous and virtue-signaling.” – a nice concise synopsis of Vermont small town and big! Thanks.

  2. Ormiga Brava

    This is Vermont’s version of the ghettoization of its unwanted marginalized classes.

    Vermont eats its own.

    So eat the poor and homeless, Vermont!

    Green Mountain Soylent Green is People!


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