This was the happy scene yesterday as Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel peremptorily ended discussion on the housing portion of the FY2024 budget, which makes no provision for extending the motel voucher program that currently shelters 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. Kitchel herself seems excited; the rest of them look like they’d rather be anywhere else.
This morning saw a much more celebratory occasion, as the House quickly dispatched Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act. And much as I hate to rain on the majority Democrats’ victory parade, I have to wonder why they couldn’t spare just a tiny bit of their abundant political capital to avoid the imminently avoidable humanitarian crisis that will unfold if the voucher program ends on schedule.
The 107-42 override vote in the House was an impressive display of political power. The Democrats easily walked over a governor who, at last check, enjoyed a 78% approval rating among the voters.
And yet, on the voucher issue, legislative Democrats made common cause with the Scott administration and threw 1,800 of our most vulnerable households under the bus. It’s a point of comparison that cannot be ignored.
Apologies for the mixed metaphors, but I’m so mad I can’t write straight.
The House-Senate budget conference committee has yet again refused to extend the motel voucher program that’s currently sheltering 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. In so doing, they ignored the pleadings of a small group of determined small- and capital-P progressives who say they won’t vote to override a gubernatorial veto of any budget that fails to address our crisis of homelessness.
And in so doing, they worked hand-in-glove with the Scott administration. I can say so because conference committee member and, God help us all, chair of the House Human Services Committee, Theresa Wood, said so: “This has been a collaborative process with the Agency of Human Services and the governor’s office.”
Great. No collaboration with housing advocates, then? No contact with the lawmakers threatening to withhold support for a budget plan that manages to combine the cruelty of Ebenezer Scrooge with the unctuousness of Uriah Heep? Nope, they confined themselves to working with an administration that has been adamant about its intent to kill the voucher program and damn the consequences.
And at almost the precise moment when this “collaborative process” came to fruition in the discussion-free approval of the new housing budget, I got a fundraising text from Vermont Democratic Party chair David Glidden urging me to support their fight against “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans [who] ae determined to sabotage us at every turn.”
Well, at every turn except when the Democrats eagerly collaborate with “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans.” If I harbored any notion of opening up my wallet to the VDP, it vanished instantly. I hope anyone else who was thinking about a donation will instead make a gift to their local homeless shelter. Fuck the Democrats.
Hey, remember that group of six lawmakers who said they wouldn’t support a veto override on any FY24 budget that didn’t provide funding for the motel voucher program and a transition to more permanent housing?
Well, their number has grown to 32, which is far more than enough to doom any override vote. And they seem determined. In a memo released today, they laid out the parameters of an acceptable plan, and it’s a solid piece of work.
CORRECTION. 32, now 33, have signed on to the memo. All agree on the plan, but most have NOT promised to block a veto override. This will all depend on what comes out of budget negotiations.
Their plan would include a $32 million appropriation to keep the voucher program going, mandate a transition plan to move people steadily from motels to longer-term housing, instruct the Scott administration to negotiate lower rates for the vouchers (something they should have done long ago), expand the list of “vulnerable populations” eligible for vouchers, and expand the Adverse Weather Conditions policy beyond wintertime to include late fall and early spring.
UPDATE.The House-Senate conference committee has reaffirmed its commitment to end the voucher program in a quick and discussion-free session. It was condescension at its finest. What’s worse is just as this was happening, I got a fundraising text from the Vermont Democratic Party asking me to help them fight “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans.” Well, I’m sorry, but on the voucher issue, the Democrats are not one whit better than the governor. In fact, the committee made it clear that they’d worked with the administration — not with housing advocates — on finalizing its housing budget plan. So remind me again, if I give to the VDP, what exactly can I expect to get?
The memo is attached below. In addition to the 30 signatories, Reps. Noah Lyman and Peter Anthony are also on board. The budget conference committee is meeting this afternoon and is likely to consider its own housing plan. We’ll see whether it fulfills the conditions laid out by the Rebel Alliance.
As the Legislature steams toward adjournment in, what, 48 hours from now?, efforts continue to find a way of solving the homelessness crisis staring us in the face. Or at least a face-saving way of putting a Band-Aid on that brain tumor.
There may have been an outcome by the time you read this. The House-Senate conference committee on the FY2024 budget has held multiple meetings this week. Each time they’ve skipped over the housing issue; at the close of yesterday’s meeting, Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel alluded to negotiations on an unspecified issue holding up the completion of the compromise budget. One has to assume she’s talking about housing. It’s the only issue that’s sparked a last-ditch revolt by lawmakers who’d rather not be responsible for mass evictions from the motel voucher program. At least, they’d rather not be perceived as responsible.
But no matter which way this goes, it’s already a policymaking failure of epic proportions. We’re approaching mid-May. Eligibility standards for the voucher program will tighten in three weeks, and the program will virtually disappear one month after that. Decisions should have been made long ago. If the budget includes reasonable funding for vouchers, there will be a mad scramble to implement the extension. If it doesn’t, well, it’s all hands on deck, five alarm fire, Defcon One, and the little dog saying “It’s Fine” in the middle of a conflagration.
Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of the Affordable Heat Act followed a familiar pattern for the most veto-happy governor in Vermont history. Rather than taking a conservative stance on policy, he focused on a flimsy process-oriented argument. It’s a tactic that allows him to claim the mantle of moderation even as he makes himself an obstacle to progressive ideas.
Just ask him, he’ll tell you he’s all for fighting climate change — but not this way.
The problem is, if we restricted ourselves to climate policies with the Phil Scott Seal of Approval, we’d miss our legally mandated targets for emissions reduc —
— oh wait, we are missing our legally mandated targets for emissions reductions!
Less than a week ago, Scott’s own Agency of Natural Resources issued its latest report and forecast on greenhouse gas emissions, which “predicts that Vermont will get halfway to its 2025 requirements and slightly less than halfway to its 2030 requirements.”
But that’s no big deal for an administration that thinks it’d be just fine to miss the 2025 and 2030 requirements as long as we hit the big one in 2050. ANR Secretary Julie Moore has said so herself. And the governor has expressed the same sentiment.
After months of dire warnings from housing advocates, after several weeks of repeated posts on This Here Blog (starting on March 26), a handful of lawmakers has finally stood up and taken notice.
With a single week left until scheduled adjournment, six members of the House Democratic caucus announced they would not vote to override a gubernatorial veto of the FY24 budget unless there was funding for a transition strategy from the motel voucher program to a replenished supply of permanent housing.
This takes real guts. They’re taking a public stand in opposition to Legislative leadership, which has been 100% committed to ending the voucher program by the end of June despite the fact that two thousand-plus Vermonters would be kicked out on the streets. The budget has sailed through the House and Senate, and is now before a conference committee tasked with crafting a consensus spending plan.
And now comes a squadron from the Rebel Alliance with Rep. Mari Cordes playing the part of Luke Skywalker, determined to drop a proton torpedo down the hatch of the budgetary Death Star. It’s inspiring, but it also leaves me wondering why it took this long.
Now that we’re within shouting distance of adjournment, it is belatedly dawning on the Legislature that something terrible is about to happen. After months of studiously avoiding the implications of ending the motel voucher program this summer, many lawmakers have awakened as if from a deep slumber, looked around, and realized that the state is about to evict more than 2,000 people in one fell swoop. Well, two fell swoops, one at the end of May and the other at the end of June.
This afternoon, the House General & Housing Committee devoted an entire hour to some heartfelt wailing and gnashing of teeth. (The second hour of this two-hour hearing archived on YouTube.) Members got a statistical breakdown of the situation from Scott administration officials (downloadable from the committee’s “Documents” list) and then spent some time making statements like “This is awful. Isn’t there something we can do?”
It was not an inspiring performance. This committee has been involved in discussions about emergency housing and the voucher program. Two of its members helped devise a budget item that sunsetted the voucher program, and that item was then presented to the entire committee. There was testimony from people in the housing advocacy community who made clear the direness of the situation and who presented well-crafted, doable solutions. Members seemed to have absorbed little to nothing of those presentations.
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.
This past weekend, former Vermont Republican Party Executive Director and Ashley’s husband Jeff Bartley posted a lengthy thread on Twitter about what’s wrong with the party and how to try to fix it. The thread was thoughtful and substantive. And there’s not a chance in hell that the VTGOP will pay him any heed. Instead, the party is doubling down on the strategery that landed it in the political wilderness.
I can tell because at its most recent meeting, the party’s state committee doubled down on election denialism. It appointed a special subcommittee to investigate Vermont’s “election operations, procedures and integrity.”
(This from the Vermont Daily Chronicle because no mainstream media outlet bothers to cover state party meetings anymore.)
That’s right, having failed to get anywhere with its much-touted (and still extant) Excess Ballot Reporting Form, the VTGOP is broadening its search to include every potential source of funny business in the desperate hope of finding any. Because the alternative is to actually admit that it’s losing elections because its policies are deeply unpopular.
There’s a boatload of infuriating details in a story by VTDigger’s Lola Duffort about the ending of the motel voucher program. One of them stood out for me, not because it’s the most telling or most impactful, but because it’s so painfully ironic.
The story opens with Rebecca Duprey, a voucher client who’s struggled to regain her footing after years of evading a violently abusive ex-husband. Her motel stay has given her half a chance, but now she’s facing a return to living in her car with her two sons.
Duprey’s case strikes at the heart of the lobotomy-style disconnect between state policymaking and, well, basic humanity. As it happens, she’s had years-long relationships with two prominent lawmakers — Rep. Anne Donahue and Sen. Anne Cummings. Each has offered assistance to Duprey, and yet each has voted in favor of an FY2024 budget that will force her back on the streets.
That’s all bad enough, but here’s the topper.
When the two lawmakers learned that Duprey was back in Washington County and spending cold nights in her car, they did not reach out to administration officials or state workers, but instead to Brenda Siegel, an advocate and former gubernatorial candidate, who took over Duprey’s casework and found her the room she currently lives in.
That would be the same Brenda Siegel who’s been treated so shabbily by lawmakers personally inconvenienced by her advocacy. She has, in fact, become the face of the housing advocacy community because, due to her lopsided defeat in last November’s gubernatorial election, she’s an easy political figure to dismiss. Which makes the issue easier to dismiss.
And these two prominent lawmakers turned to Siegel to help when they didn’t think anyone else would. Hmm.