Equity in All Systems for All Vermonters
Vermonters are waking up to the fact that our country, our society, our laws and our institutions are built on foundations that do not incorporate the interests of everyone, nor protect the well-being of every citizen. Now is the time to address the institutional and systematic racism that harms and traumatizes Black and Brown Vermonters, Indigenous, People of Color, as well as undermines the free, full expression of all of us. To dismantle systematic racism and centuries of oppression, we must work both individually to educate ourselves and collectively to transform institutions - every Vermonter has an important role in this. Within the legislature addressing equity falls within the jurisdiction of every single committee. I make the commitment to educate myself and reflect on the role I play and to ask the hard questions that are needed to transform our systems.
Strong Schools and Child Care
Our child care system and public schools are the bedrock of our communities and provide our children the opportunity to reach their potential and succeed in life. With the additional demands placed on our schools from addiction, mental illness, and poverty, great public schools and a robust child care system are more important than ever in giving all children a bright future. We need to increase access to high quality and affordable child care and expand access to pre-kindergarten for every child. We must take action now to prevent the stress and trauma that too often impacts our children's lives. By addressing trauma early we can prevent drug use and mental health issues. We took a giant step forward last session in special education by changing our reimbursement system to be more effective and use our resources wisely. By giving schools more flexibility they can focus on student needs without having to worry if a service is eligible for reimbursement. Although the implementation will be delayed due to COVID-19, I look forward to reviewing this progress over the next several years.
Affordable and Accessible Housing and Healthcare
Two fundamental rights for our society. The cost of health insurance and housing are the biggest challenges faced by many Vermonters and both impact decisions we make every day. As a Ranking Member of the healthcare committee I am active in the move away from fee-for-service to a value based payment system where our doctors and hospitals are paid to keep us healthy, as well as, the continued fight for parity for physical and mental health. I support prioritizing funding to ensure every Vermonter that needs treatment for substance use disorder and mental health receive that treatment in a way that is timely and best for them. I supported the legislation establishing the $35 million housing bond making affordable housing available to low and middle income Vermonters and will continue to fight to fund programs that create safe and affordable housing for working families and vulnerable seniors and that move to make Vermont free from homelessness.
Vermont is aging - currently one in five Vermonters is over the age of 60. With our robust Essex Senior Center and transportation system to help older Vermonters age in place, Essex Junction is an attractive place to live. But meeting basic needs, finding affordable and appropriate housing, and avoiding the effects of social isolation are ongoing issues older Vermonters face everyday. I supported the legislation creating the Older Vermonters Working Group and am a member of the Older Vermonters Caucus - created last term to educate legislators on issues effecting our older population. I will fight for programs that allow our older population to age in place while continuing to lead healthy productive lives.
Food Security and Our Social Safety Floor
Too many Vermonters struggle to put food on their table and meet their other basic needs. We need to change our focus from providing a social safety net to providing a social safety floor while focusing on helping all Vermonters achieve their greatest potential. During our current health and economic crisis estimates indicate we've seen upwards of a 50% increase in food insecurity. No one can focus on the life in front of them when they are worried about where the next meal will come from. Studies show hunger impacts learning while many in need don't access current programs due to social stigma. We have great resources available in Vermont, including the Essex Westford School District Child Nutrition Services who is not only focused on feeding our children when they are in school, but also when they are out of school. But we need to focus more on our food system, distribution and access. Our schools should offer a healthy breakfast and lunch to all children to support all students' academic achievement. We need increased support to our food shelves and Farm to Table. I will continue working towards food security for all and lifting all Vermonters forward.
During our spring of remote learning and working from home, I had the wonderful opportunity to see our backyard and Vermont through my son's budding scientific eyes. We discovered different plant life and bugs; and learned about all the birds that fly among us. We explored Vermont rivers and marshes, taking time to research all we didn't know. I was committed to climate action prior to our experience this spring, but now realize there is no time to waste - for our children's future we must act. To start - we must increase our weatherization efforts, reduce our transportation emissions and pass the Global Warming Solutions Act.
A strong, healthy economy provides jobs, helps lift people out of poverty and lessens the pressures on our social services system.
I know first hand the potential devastation a sudden family illness can bring to a family and will continue to push for paid family and medical leave. Supporting paid family and medical leave means working Vermonters will have the security of being able to welcome a new child or care for a sick family member without fear of losing income or being fired. Continuing to raise the minimum wage will help families meet their basic needs, their spending will boost our small businesses, create jobs and help Vermont communities thrive. We must enhance our workforce development by increasing access to training, career and tech education. Our training should meet the needs of our employers to ensure every Vermonter has an opportunity for a rewarding career while also ensuring companies have the trained workforce to compete in today's business environment.
Don't Do Anything About Me Without Me