DEDICATED TO THOUGHTFUL, INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY-BUILDING
While my interest in issues is broad, my focus is on those that impact the economic concerns we have not only locally but also statewide, particularly in the areas of accessible and affordable child care, student loan debt relief, a living wage for all Vermont workers, and affordable and safe housing for everyone.
The connections between issues is where we can find the best solutions. For example, as seniors move out of their homes we will be left with houses that need new owners. Younger residents must be able to afford to buy and then maintain these homes in order for our towns to continue to thrive. Student debt, excessively high child care costs, and low wages all contribute to one’s inability to be a homeowner. This puts everyone in a precarious situation; it isn’t just a matter of the younger person’s inability to afford something, but of the senior citizen who can’t sell their home and the neighborhood that becomes less desirable with unoccupied houses.
Covid 19 has revealed many gaps in systems, and will continue to impact the decisions regarding priorities and spending for an unknown amount of time. But many of those gaps are in areas that have had ongoing issues and now is not the time to forego making progress towards better systems and solutions which will also help us weather, or avoid, crisis in the future.
Accessible and Affordable Child Care
In Vermont, over 70%* of children under six have all parents in the workforce. Access to regulated high-quality programs for infants and toddlers often exceeds this number.
As a grandmother who provided part-time child care for my grandchildren, and knowing other grandparents who are or have provided part or full-time care, I know first-hand how this issue impacts young families – especially those who do not have family nearby. Oftentimes parents are cobbling together a mix of family, neighbors, preschool, daycare, and working from home. These are in many cases the lucky ones. Others travel a great distance for child care, or find themselves on a waiting list for months before a space is available. Covid 19 exposed many issues regarding our need for a stronger child care system and I believe that the work on this will continue over several sessions.
Families with young children cite the availability of quality, affordable child care as a major factor when considering where to live and work. As we continue to address the issue of our aging population and how to retain and attract younger workers, the child care piece cannot be ignored. This issue resonates with Vermonters regardless of age – everyone seems to be either directly impacted or knows someone who is. Addressing accessible and affordable child care in a comprehensive manner will ensure the economic vitality and viability of our communities. This is the kind of investment that benefits us all.
*(Source: Let’s Grow Kids, a public awareness and engagement campaign about the challenge of child care)
Student Loan Debt Relief
The average student loan debt in Vermont exceeds most other states. A high debt to earnings ratio makes it difficult for student loan borrowers to engage in the economy in ways that benefit not only their own circumstances but the financial health of their communities. Purchasing a home, starting a family, or even taking a particular job can be dictated by one’s debt burden.
As we consider how to retain and attract younger workers in Vermont, we will need to think broadly and creatively to lighten the consequences of high student loan debt. There are ways that we can tie debt forgiveness to attending one of our state colleges and then staying in and working in Vermont. Other states are looking at, and in some cases have already implemented, student loan debt relief measures through deductions in state taxes and other mechanisms.
During Covid 19 we have begun to rethink our idea of “essential” workers and the importance of various jobs. While unfortunate that it took a pandemic to realize the role many jobs have in keeping our communities and economy functioning, we can now act on the knowledge that all jobs have a value that should be reflected in a living wage.
In a rural state like ours, stable jobs matter. Raising the minimum wage is one way to increase stability for both employees and employers, alleviating job-hopping for minor wage increases and allowing workers to save for child care costs, unexpected car repairs, and other basic expenses that impact their ability to meet work commitments.
Affordable and Safe Housing
Housing issues are not always the obvious ones of homelessness or substandard dwellings. While those always need to be addressed, and I fully support the “housing first” model, there are additional housing issues that impact the quality of life for many Vermont residents. Our aging housing stock represents a challenge to both current and future occupants; senior citizens on limited incomes may have difficulty keeping up with maintenance, potential new home owners find the cost of upkeep prohibitive. I’m not advocating for the state to intervene and solve all these issues with funding, but rather to consider the ways that current and future legislation can assist in alleviating housing issues and bring about new, create solutions.