Legislators are a third of the way through the 2020 legislative session, and many issues on the Alliance’s 2020 Legislative Agenda are moving through the legislative process. This newsletter provides updates and events related to the Alliance’s priority issues.
Lead organizations continue to work on legislative strategy, develop talking points, and support advocates in the State House. Learn more on the Alliance’s Legislative Agenda page.
Tell us which issues are most important to you by taking the Alliance survey.
FY21 State Budget
The House Appropriations Committee is continuing to work on their version of a budget for FY21, which begins in July of this year. As it does every year, their work starts by considering the Governor’s Recommended Budget. This year, once again the Committee is wrestling with limited revenues, many funding requests, and several significant “holes” in the budget created by large infrastructure and pension fund pressures.
As you will see in many of the items below, the funding requests supported by Alliance lead organizations and advocates are dependent on the Committee making funds available.
Housing and Homelessness
The Governor’s Recommended FY21 Budget includes a significant revision to the State’s General Assistance emergency housing program, which is being considered by several committees. At this time, House committees seem to not be inclined to support the immediate changes proposed by the Administration, and may instead ask for a year-long transition period.
The Senate Economic Development Committee is also discussing a number of ways to support development of more affordable housing.
Family & Medical Leave Insurance
In one of the more dramatic moments of the session so far, earlier this month the House fell one vote short of over-turning the Governor’s veto of H. 107, a bill to create a limited leave insurance program the Alliance did not support. Discussions about possible next steps in the effort to develop a strong program for Vermont are likely to continue in the coming months.
Farm to School and Early Childhood
The Governor’s Recommended FY21 Budget level funds Farm to School and Early Childhood (FTSEC) compared to FY20 base funding levels. Advocates have continued to press for higher funding for FY21, and have generated some traction. FTSEC is listed as a funding priority in both House Education and Agriculture and Forestry Committees budget memos to House Appropriations.
Children's Integrated Services (CIS)
The Governor’s Recommended FY21 Budget includes level funding for CIS compared to FY20. Advocates are working to build support for additional funding, and we have succeeded in securing the support of the House Human Services Committee, which has made fully funding the recommended $634/month case rate a priority in their memo to House Appropriations.
This recommendation would mean a $2.4 million increase for the program, and is a major step in building support for more CIS funding. However, it is heavily contingent on funds being available.
Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) and Special Accommodation Grants (SAG)
The Governor’s Recommended FY21 Budget includes both a $1.3 million increase for CCFAP to bring pre-school and school age rates up to the ’15 Market Rate, as well as funding for the annual update of the Federal Poverty Level and $250,000 to fund necessary computer upgrades. Alliance lead organizations are asking for increased investments in a number of areas, especially one-time funds for the computer infrastructure that will support future program enhancements.
Meanwhile, the Alliance has led the effort to secure funding for Special Accommodation Grants (SAG) in both the current fiscal year (FY20) and next year (FY21). The annual Budget Adjustment Act, just passed for FY20, should add $153,000 back into the budget to fund SAG for the remaining months of the current fiscal year. And our appeal for CCFAP funding for FY21 includes a request for $550,000 for SAGs in the coming year.
Early Childhood Education Workforce
The Governor’s Recommended FY21 Budget includes modest funding for scholarship programs, less than was provided in FY20.
Active discussions on early childhood education workforce development, including multiple hearings in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, continue at the State House. Alliance lead organizations are working with legislative champions to keep the momentum going and fund scholarships, student loan repayment, and wage supports necessary to retain current early childhood educators and attract new professionals to the field.
Office of Child Advocate
The House Human Services Committee has been hearing testimony on H. 215, which would establish the Office of Child Advocate. The Office would serve as an independent entity to increase accountability and transparency of the state’s child welfare system.
Last week, the Committee decided to re-write the bill to task the Joint Legislative Child Protection Oversight Committee with resolving outstanding policy questions and developing draft legislation to create an Office of Child Advocate. The House Human Services Committee will hopefully pass this revised bill in the next week, for consideration by the full House soon thereafter.
PCC Network Master Grant
This month, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted to support S.263, which would (among other things) update statutory language that authorizes the creation of Parent Child Centers, and appropriate $4 million in additional base funding to the Network. This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hear testimony on the funding aspects of the bill.
Advocates have also pushed for an additional one-time appropriation to the PCCN for essential infrastructure repairs.
Universal School Meals
Both House and Senate committees held hearings on S.223/H.812, which would require all public schools in Vermont to make school breakfast and lunch available to all students at no cost.
Advocates have used this opportunity to educate legislators and the public on the benefits of Universal School Meals. They do not expect movement on the bill this year, but have succeeded in making important progress in building support for the proposal.
Pre-K/Act 166 Discussions
The House Education Committee has been discussing a draft bill that would make a number of changes to the pre-K system, including possibly splitting oversight of public and private pre-K providers. The position of the two oversight agencies – the Agency of Education and Department for Children and Families – has been evolving over the last week, making it harder to be sure what position the Committee will take.
Any bill passed by the Education Committee will then be considered by the House Human Services Committee, so there are many steps remaining before any proposed changes become close to being final.
The Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance is a statewide coalition formed in 2000 of early childhood professionals, parents, organizations, businesses, and strategic partners committed to improving public policies that impact young children between birth and age eight in the areas of health, safety, food security, economic security, and early care and education.
The Alliance crafts an annual Legislative Agenda in partnership with early childhood organizations, provides year-round advocacy support, and facilitates meaningful interactions with policymakers at key times during the decision making process.