Federal COVID aid helps, but it may not be enough to see Vermonters through

Posted by Stephanie Yu on May 6, 2020 at 1:11 pm | * Comments (1)

During the first month of the pandemic, Congress scrambled to pass multiple aid packages aimed at helping states and individuals prepare for and respond to the crisis. But whether that will be enough to meet Vermonters’ needs is anyone’s guess.

The packages approved in Washington include increased unemployment benefits, limited paid leave, funds to hospitals and other medical providers, and one-time direct payments to low- and moderate-income individuals, as well as additional program dollars for child care subsidies, education, community development, and other priorities. To date, Vermont’s small businesses have taken more than $1 billion in Small Business Administration loans that may be forgiven if they keep their employees on payroll for the two months following receipt of the loan.

Don’t hurt kids in the name of “fairness”

Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 27, 2020 at 11:36 am | * Comments (4)

It’s too early to have a clear picture of how Vermont should allocate the $1.25 billion it received last week from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. But a fully funded, fully functioning public education system has to be a top priority.

We’ve already heard demands that “schools need to share the economic pain” caused by the coronavirus crisis. At first blush, that sounds like a reasonable appeal to a sense of fairness. But it won’t be schools that pay the price if we start cutting education funding. It will be children, who already are going to miss about a third of this school year. Are we really going to ask third graders or high school sophomores to “share the pain” by giving up part of their education next year too? Are we prepared to tell them they need to do more with less education?

Women filled most of the frontline jobs

Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 9, 2020 at 3:42 pm | Comments Off on Women filled most of the frontline jobs

More than 72,000 of Vermonters worked in jobs that are now on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis, providing goods and services that many of the rest of us need as we shelter in place.

Two out of three of these workers were women. Nearly one in three (30 percent) had a child living at home.

These are some of the findings of a new analysis released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C., using data from 2014 to 2018. The frontline workers included in the study represent 22 percent of all Vermont workers 16 and older.

What’s the cost of living and staying healthy?

Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 3, 2020 at 1:32 pm | * Comments (1)

Let’s all take a deep breath. Before we jump to the conclusion that $600-a-week federal unemployment checks on top of state benefits are going to destroy the work ethic and wipe out the labor force, let’s remember why we’re doing this.

The intended consequence of federal pandemic unemployment benefits through July is that workers will stay home. Until there is a vaccine, isolation is the best defense against the coronavirus. And if people are going to be confined to their homes, they need to have enough money to feed themselves and their families, make rent or mortgage payments, and pay for essential goods and services.

We’re looking at this the wrong way if we’re trying to balance “unemployment compensation” in one hand and “to not be working” in the other.

People working during the pandemic need a living wage too

Posted by Jack Hoffman on March 31, 2020 at 1:47 pm | * Comments (2)

The $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill will keep the wolf from the door for millions of people who can’t work and businesses forced to close because of the coronavirus pandemic—at least for a while. Congress rightly recognized its first priority is to see that people with no money coming in have enough to live on.

Now we must do the same for those who are still working.

Vermonters count on Census Day results

Posted by Jack Hoffman on March 24, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Comments Off on Vermonters count on Census Day results

Life in the time of the COVID-19 has upended everyone’s daily routines. It’s a wonder anyone has remembered the 2020 Census form that recently arrived in the mail. But as of last weekend, just over 16 percent of Vermonters had completed the survey. Nationally, the response rate has been 19.2 percent.

April 1, just a week away, is Census Day. That’s the reference date for answering the Census questions about the people in each household, their ages, race, relationships, and about home ownership. This is the basic head count that is done every 10 years, and it’s critical in determining the distribution for federal funds, representation in Congress, and representation in the Vermont Legislature. Federal highway construction, Medicaid, food assistance (known here as 3SquaresVT), Head Start, and school meals are just a few of the federal programs affected by the Census count.

COVID-19 Crisis

Posted by Sarah Lyons on March 18, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Comments Off on COVID-19 Crisis

We are all facing challenges that none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. As Public Assets follows the developments of the global pandemic and resulting economic downturn, we will be doing our best to add context and help you understand what’s happening in Vermont on tax, budget, and economic issues. Read more

A harder road for school construction

Posted by Julie Lowell on March 11, 2020 at 12:29 pm | * Comments (5)

Last Tuesday, communities across Vermont voted on school budgets (among other things). Historically, Vermonters have provided the financial resources that school boards have indicated our kids need to thrive in school—and preliminary results this year suggest voters passed over 90 percent of the school budgets up for approval on Town Meeting Day.

In addition to voting yea or nay on the annual school budget, five school districts—Barre Unified Union, Canaan Schools, Champlain Valley, Slate Valley Unified, and South Burlington—faced a second separate school budget decision: whether to fund school construction needs.

Legislature overruled the governor, raised the minimum wage

Posted by Stephanie Yu on February 27, 2020 at 3:32 pm | Comments Off on Legislature overruled the governor, raised the minimum wage

There was a celebratory feeling in the air in Montpelier on Tuesday after the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of S.23, the bill to increase Vermont’s minimum wage. The governor rejected the bill despite the support of nearly three-quarters of Vermonters for the increase.

In the end, the Legislature decided that 40,000 of the lowest-paid Vermonters needed the raise.

While many policies that get discussed in the State House are complicated and can be controversial, this isn’t one of them—at least outside the building. This policy is popular and straightforward because Vermonters know it puts money in the pockets of those who need it most: working parents, older adults, and the disproportionate share of women in low-wage jobs.

Build on Vermont’s strengths

Posted by Jack Hoffman on February 24, 2020 at 1:46 pm | * Comments (1)

U.S. News & World Report is out with its latest “Best States” rankings. Vermont was number five last year, behind Washington, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Utah. The report adds a new perspective to some of the debates we hear in Montpelier—about Vermont’s strengths, its weaknesses, and what matters.

U.S. News looks at a lot of factors to make its comparisons. They include equality indicators, like the distribution of income and the employment gap for people with disabilities. They look at the unemployment rate and the growth of the gross state product, but also the gap between men and women in workforce participation.

Overall, Vermont’s fifth-place showing was pretty good. And while we don’t want to ignore the areas where we’re falling short, the state is best served if we focus on, build on, and promote our strengths.