Wow, for a minute there I thought our looming homelessness crisis had been averted. It sounded like Gov. Phil Scott had swooped in to make the big save.
At his weekly press conference on Wednesday, the governor said the following:
At a time when Vermont has historic surpluses, we’re going to have $200 million probably at the end of this fiscal year in surplus, it’s hard to communicate to Vermonters as to why we’re…
I know what’s coming next! It’s clear as day: It sure is “hard to communicate” as to why we’re fixing to throw two thousand-plus Vermonters out on the street by ending the motel voucher program when we are, in fact, swimming in loot!
I mean, obviously the governor is about to announce that we can afford a temporary voucher extension at the same time we invest in permanent housing solutions.
Here’s the full sentence.
At a time when Vermont has historic surpluses, we’re going to have $200 million probably at the end of this fiscal year in surplus, it’s hard to communicate to Vermonters as to why we’re raising their taxes and fees.
Sorry, no dramatic announcement, just the bog standard complaining about spendthrift Democrats.
But still. Scott’s comment about Vermont ending this fiscal year with a $200 million surplus ought to be Game Over. Surely we can afford the $20 million that housing advocates say is needed to extend the voucher program, right? I mean, we’ve got ten times that much in unexpected revenue! How cruel would it be to evict people from motel rooms when we don’t have to?
And official Vermont — Republican, Democratic, and Progressive alike — is fully prepared to be exacxtly that cruel.
The presser featured an extended Q&A on the voucher program, and Scott’s responses were full of the wilful distortions and deliberate obfuscations so familiar from leading Democrats. Let’s run ’em down, shall we?
Scott asserted that we couldn’t afford a program that’s costing $20 million a month. That might be the cost of the current program, I don’t know, but housing advocates are asking for far less than that. They’ve run the numbers, and come up with a baseline amount that’s far less than $20 million a month.
Addendum from VTDigger’s Final Reading: “The program actually costs between $7 and $8 million a month, according to data provided by state officials to VTDigger.” Oopsie!
He said the program has “gotta end sometime.” No argument there. Just don’t end it precipitously without a plan to keep roofs over people’s heads.
He offered one, and only one, way to keep the program going after June 30: to strip away the $50 million budgeted for permanent housing. Wrong and wrong. As Scott himself stated, there’s a lot more than that in surplus revenue.
And then we finally get to the Nice Guy part. “I don’t underestimate how difficult this is for some of those folks involved but it’s time,” he said. “We have to end it sometime.”
Excuse me? “How difficult”?
We’re talking about families with children and people with disabilities who won’t have a roof over their heads. “Difficult”? Shut the hell up.
We got the same horse hockey from Human Services Secretary Jenney Samuelson, plus some extra bonus content. She repeated the falsehood that the only way to extend the voucher program is to cut funding for permanent housing. She helpfully acknowledged that “it’s going to be a challenging transition for some,” which is criminally easy for her to say. But hey, she added, “we know there are folks who will self-resolve.” I think she meant that some will find other places to go, but given the fact that some of the unhoused will die (a statistical certainty), “self-resolve” is a particularly unfortunate choice of words.
But Samuelson’s biggest howler was her implication that voucher recipients will be better served without the program:
This program doesn’t have the wraparound services that assist people in making that next step in their lives, connecting them to permanent housing, connecting them to jobs, connecting them to services.
To which my response is, well, who created the program and why doesn’t it include wraparound services? This is the chief of the Agency of Human Services. This is the person who, I assume, was deeply involved in devising the voucher program. She certainly has authority and responsibility to do it differently.
This reminded me of lawmakers’ complaints about the high cost of motel rooms under the program. I mean, those rates were presumably negotiated by the state. Did they try to make the best bargain, or did they let things slide because it was all federal money anyway?
The administration failed to run the voucher program efficiently. It failed to provide support services that could have helped people get out of motels and into better situations. It failed to make any plan whatsoever for a “challenge” free transition — over and over again, even after legislators asked them repeatedly to come up with a transition plan.
Fail, fail, fail. And who’s paying the price? The voucher clients, that’s who. And all the while, we’re sitting on a couple hundred million dollars. Shameful.