MONTPELIER — A governor-appointed council is issuing recommendations to end homelessness and poverty in Vermont.
Members of the Governor’s Council on Pathways From Poverty discussed a recent report that seeks to end the cycle of poverty in the state and match people at risk of homelessness with permanent homes.
“We have got to end the ceaseless cutting of the safety net in Vermont,” said Christopher Curtis, co-chairman of the Governor’s Council on Pathways From Poverty, and an attorney for Vermont Legal Aid.
“We have seen, year after year, the drip-drip cuts to essential programs and services, and those are simply poor taxes,” Curtis continued. “In a state where we routinely hear Vermonters cannot afford anymore taxes, policymakers are levying taxes on those who can least afford to pay.”
Co-chairwoman Linda Ryan discussed the proposal to levy a tax of $2 per night on hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, which the council anticipates would raise $12 million annually.
“If we’re really serious about it (ending poverty and homelessness), we need to raise new revenue, and we can’t raise taxes that will affect low-income people,” Ryan said. “We feel strongly that this $2 hotel fee would not hurt anybody. It’s a cup of coffee.”
Half of the money generated would be used to improve access to affordable housing, with the other half split among a number of initiatives, such as home weatherization. According to the council’s report, the average wage of a renter in Vermont is $11.24 an hour, while the wage needed to afford a typical two-bedroom rental in the state is $19.36 an hour.
Whitney Nichols, of Brattleboro, who serves on the council, discussed how, 12 years ago, he faced eviction from his apartment while waiting for his Social Security check.
“This was over the Christmas holiday,” Nichols said. “I had no hot water, I was in crisis and I didn’t get the support, the help that I needed.”
Nichols said one of his greatest challenges is transportation, and discussed how hard it was to make his way Thursday from Brattleboro to Montpelier.
“Inability to drive is a poverty trap,” Curtis said. “We want Vermont drivers back on the road safely, legally and affordably by reforming our traffic fine system.”
To that end, the council recommends the state expand to year-round the “Driver Restoration Day” events that have so far allowed 22,000 people to regain their driver’s licenses without paying all of their fines.
The council is also pushing it’s “Ban the Box” initiative to prevent employers from questioning prospective employees’ criminal background on a job application.
Daniel Barlow, public policy manager with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, gave his organization’s endorsement to the plan.
“We’re all human beings and we all make mistakes in life. This should not be a life sentence prohibiting them from getting a job down the road,” Barlow said. “We believe that job applicants should be first reviewed on their skills, their qualifications and their work experience, and then look at potential criminal history.”