2022 Legislative Agenda Mid-Session Update – Early Childhood Issues in the State House
With the House’s passage of their FY23 Budget and the coming and going of “crossover” (and therefore bills moving from one chamber to the other), the Legislative session has passed another key point in the calendar.
Here are brief updates on the status of the issues on the Alliance’s ’22 Legislative Agenda.
HOUSING & HOMELESSNESS: Increase Access to Safe, Stable, and Affordable Housing for all Children
The FY23 Budget as passed by the House includes a $10m increase in base funding for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). While still short of full statutory funding, this increase is an improvement to the level funding in the Governor’s Recommended FY23 Budget.
The Rental Housing and Safety bill, S. 210, was passed by the Senate earlier this month and is currently being debated in the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee. In addition to creating a new uniform statewide Rental Housing and Safety code, this bill also includes a $20m appropriation for the Vermont Housing Improvement Program (VHIP) to cover the costs of bringing vacant and blighted rental units back into the rental market.
The omnibus housing bill, S. 226, is awaiting final consideration by the full Senate. The bill contains several provisions including Act 250 permit reform, grants for employer housing, and the Governor’s proposed $15m “Missing Middle Home Program” to help middle-income Vermonters afford a home. The bill is also being discussed this week in the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, in anticipation of Senate passage.
FARM TO SCHOOL & EARLY CHILDHOOD: Nourishing Children’s Bodies and Minds
The House FY23 Budget fully funds the Vermont Farm to School and Early Childhood grant program at $500,000. This would increase annual funding from the current level of $171,000 and would allow more early childhood education programs can access grant funding for garden and farm visits, food procurement planning, and more.
Advocates are hopeful that the Senate will concur with the House and fully fund the grant program in their budget.
CHILDREN’S INTEGRATED SERVICES (CIS): Vital Support for Vermont’s Families
The House FY23 Budget adds $880,000 to CIS to increase the case rate from $600/month to $650/month – still short of the actual cost of care, but a badly needed increase. Advocates have requested an increase to $700/month. The Senate will consider the proposal in the coming weeks.
Advocacy also continues in support of the request for $1.6m in one-time funds for the development of a system-wide CIS data system, which despite support from the House Human Services and Energy & Technology Committees was not included in the House budget.
TRANSFORMING EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION (ECE): Equitable, Affordable, Sustainable ECE for Children Birth to Five
The FY22 Budget Adjustment Act was recently signed into law by the Governor, and includes $6m to fund a round of retention bonuses for child care staff currently working in the field, and language that gives the Joint Fiscal Office the authority to move forward with seeking a contractor to execute the Child Care Financing Study included in Act 45 last year.
The House FY23 Budget includes $4.9m in increased funding for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program (CCFAP) to increase rates and expand the number of paid absence days for families and closure dates for programs. The Senate will be considering the proposal in the coming weeks, along with the Governor’s proposal for additional CCFAP funding for afterschool and enrichment programs.
The Legislature has not yet taken action on proposals to make emergency investments for early childhood educators, fund an early childhood education workforce recruitment and outreach initiative, or a proposal to establish a child care capacity development program in statute.
PARENT CHILD CENTER NETWORK INTEGRATED GRANT: Strengthen and Support Parent Child Centers
Last week the Senate passed an amended version of S. 91, which would update statutory language that authorizes the creation of Parent Child Centers (PCCs). The bill has been referred to the House Human Services Committee. The PCC Network supports the bill, and will be advocating for its passage in the House.
The final Senate version of the bill did not include the base funding increase or the one-time funding allocation that were in the original version of the bill. The House FY23 Budget did not include these either. The PCC Network will continue to advocate for the funding as the Senate works on their FY23 Budget.
UNIVERSAL SCHOOL MEALS: Make Equitable Access to School Meals Permanent
Last year, the Senate passed a scaled-down version of S. 100, which would provide permanent state support for a universal school breakfast program. The House Education Committee is currently working on an amended version of S. 100 that includes universal breakfast and lunch for all Vermont students. While the details of the program are still being debated, last week the House approved a funding source for at least the first year of a full Universal School Meals, one that includes both breakfast and lunch.
Advocates are testifying in House Education this week and are hopeful that the Committee will pass an expanded version of S. 100 in early April. Once the House completes their work on the bill, the House and Senate will need to come to agreement on a final version.
REACH UP: Ending Child Poverty is Within Our Reach
Last week the House passed H. 464, a bill containing a number of improvements to the Reach Up program, including several provisions imported from H.672. The bulk of the changes proposed in H.464 are programmatic, shifting to a “universal engagement model that aims to engage each participating family, to the best of their ability, in improving the family’s social, emotional, and economic well-being.” Voices for Vermont’s Children is strongly supporting the bill, which expands the activities that count as engagement, drawing from research on what works. The bill will now be considered by the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House FY23 Budget unfortunately includes a $4.6m funding decrease for Reach Up. The House Appropriations Committee accepted the caseload reduction projections in the Governor’s Recommended FY23 Budget, despite the fact that the House Human Services Committee found them to be unrealistic. Advocacy opposing the reduction will now focus on the Senate.
FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE INSURANCE: Improving the Health and Well-Being of Vermont Families
Last year the House passed H. 159, a bill to support economic development and workforce revitalization. This month the Senate Economic Development Committee took up the bill. They have added language to establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave Task Force, which would review the previous Leave program study of 2014 and look at existing program models throughout the country (Section 14b).
Additionally, the Committee’s version of H. 159 would establish a COVID Paid Leave Grant Program that would award grants to employers to reimburse the cost of providing COVID-19-related paid leave to employees (Sections 14 and 14a). As currently outlined, the program would use $16.5m of ARPA funds and run retroactively from January 1 through December 31, 2022. It would provide 67% wage replacement up to $27.50/hour with an individual employee cap of 80 hours or $2,200 for the duration of the program. Advocacy in support of the program continues.
If the bill gets through the Senate, these language changes will be considered by the House. The FaMLI Coalition is supporting the grant program, and hopes to include employers and sole-proprietors as recipients of the grants, in addition to employees.
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.
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The Vermont Early Childhood Advocacy Alliance is a program of the Vermont Community Loan Fund.