VERMONT CHILD POVERTY COUNCIL
September 13, 2007
Members Present: Rep. Ann Pugh, Co-chair; Sen. Doug Racine, Co-chair; Rep. Janet Ancel; Rep. Carolyn Partridge; Donna Bister, WIC Program Director, Vermont Department of Health; Richard Cate, Commissioner, Department of Education; Steve Dale, Commissioner, Department for Children and Families; Carlen Finn, Voices for Vermont’s Children; Jeff Francis, Director, Vermont Superintendents’ Association; Karen Lafayette, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council; Pat Moulton Powden, Commissioner, Department of Labor; Karen Richards, Poverty Law Project, Vermont Legal Aid
Members Absent: Sen. Harold Giard, Sen. Jane Kitchel
Also Present: Legislative staff, Administration staff, and the public
Recording: CD 2007 – 9, 10, 11, 12
Convene, Review and Approve 8/22/07 Meeting Minutes
At 9:40 a.m., Sen. Racine convened the meeting. Sen. Racine entertained the motion to approve the minutes as amended. Rep. Carolyn Partridge made the motion to approve the minutes, Commissioner Powden seconded the motion. There was no further discussion. The motion passed unanimously on a voice vote.
Public Process Logistics and Forum Date Discussion; Snelling Center Proposal Discussion and Funding Update
Sen. Racine said the Public Forum subcommittee had met several times to talk about the public forum process. He also said the Snelling Center had continued to revise its proposal to try to meet the Council’s needs and budget constraints. As well, Legislative Leadership, as well as the Administration, had sought to work within its budgetary constraints to fund the proposal. Sen. Racine said Steve Klein, Chief of the Joint Fiscal Office, had also examined the Legislative budget and confirmed the money was not available. Sen. Racine said the sub-committee would meet again on the forum details and to work with staff to utilize outside resources, such as the schools, community action agencies, as well as others to help make the forums successful. Commissioner Cate said the Department of Education could help with providing facilitators.
Council members asked that, if the Council was going ahead with the 14 public forums prior to January, the dates be decided as soon as possible and they wrap up by the end of November.
Rachel Levin, Legislative Council staff, was asked to comment on the logistics for planning the 14 public forums in the 14 counties.
Sen. Racine reported Vermont had been invited to an NCSL/NGA conference on poverty. The organizers wanted Vermont to send three legislators and three members of the administration. Sen. Racine, Rep. Pugh, and Sen. Susan Bartlett would be attending, as well as Commissioner Steve Dale (DCF), Commissioner Pat Moulton Powden (DOL), and Secretary Cynthia LaWare (AHS).
The Council agreed that its process might have to extend beyond the timeline originally contemplated. Rep. Ancel expressed a desire to complete all 14 public forums before the report is finalized. Jennifer Carbee, Legislative Council staff, reminded the Council that its enabling legislation specifies that a “working plan” is due by January 1, 2008. Rep. Pugh said that the first part would be setting up the forums, including media, physical space, and materials. Rep. Ancel said it would be best to schedule the forums as soon as possible, even if the Council has not yet chosen a format. Sen. Racine said the Council would try to have all of the forums completed before Thanksgiving.
Definitions and Benchmarks Recommendations: Update and Discussion
● Memo from Doug Hoffer, 9/10/07
● Dr. Dynasaur, Medicaid and Vermont’s Children, A Vermont Kids Count Report, Voices for Vermont’s Children, 2006
● Social Inclusion for the United States, Center for Economic Policy and Research, April 2007
● Update on Benchmarks and Definitions, Vermont Child Poverty Council Data Subcommittee, 9/13/07
Steve Dale, Commissioner, and Robert McIntyre, Policy and Procedures, Department for Children and Families, Agency of Human Services, led the discussion on definitions and benchmarks. Commissioner Dale said the federal government was auditing 8 states regarding TANF and the acceptable error rate, and Vermont had met with the feds on 9/10/07. Commissioner Dale also attended a workshop entitled “Reducing Poverty: A National Movement.” The workshop’s presenters suggested that states should not try to reduce poverty, but rather increase social inclusion, which is something on which the United Kingdom has focused. Commissioner Dale said that poverty today looks different from how it looked 30 years ago.
Carlen Finn said national groups, including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), are looking to help Vermont and to identify benchmarks. Carlen Finn thought the Council should be open to letting definitions evolve over the next few years. Rep. Pugh suggested the Council should hold off on making preliminary decisions until after the forums, and that it seemed premature to have draft benchmarks. Sen. Racine agreed, and said he wanted to broaden the discussion beyond how we usually look at poverty.
Rob McIntyre talked about the Scandinavian model of providing generous benefits for people in hard times, but also following up with integration into society, which may or may not include a paying job. Rob McIntyre said the U.S. Census Bureau has been looking at new ways to measure poverty, and the National Academy for Sciences has been looking at how to understand poverty along with the different benefit programs available. Rob McIntyre thought it was important to look at income and benefits together in determining whether a family is in poverty. Rob McIntyre reviewed graphs from the data committee showing food stamp usage in Vermont. He said the food stamp data is updated every 6 months, because it is quickly out of date. There has been no new food shelf data since 2005.
Karen Lafayette provided some information about housing costs and median income and suggested that the Council consider using LIHEAP as an indicator of poverty. Commissioner Dale countered that the data on LIHEAP are similar to food stamp data, but they agreed to look at LIHEAP to the extent information is available.
Rob McIntyre introduced the Behavioral Risk Factor Survey, a random survey of Vermont adults. Donna Bister explained that the questions asked are standard CDC questions about food security. Carlen Finn suggested looking at data on free and reduced-price lunches, saying they are important, reasonably reliable, and updated frequently. Rep. Ancel pointed out that it does not include pre-schoolers, but is good for K-12 data. Rep. Partridge disagreed, saying she had difficulty getting children to sign up for the free and reduced-price milk program, so the numbers are likely artificially low. Commissioner Cate said the number of students participating in the program goes down when they reach high school because parents give more control to their children and the children are afraid of the stigma associated with the program. Commissioner Dale said he had data on food stamps, and would provide housing and free and reduced-price lunch information for the next Council meeting.
Rob McIntyre brought up the issue of the child care subsidy, but the Council was not sure it was a good indicator of child poverty. Sen. Racine wanted information about the number of Vermont children who are in high – quality, early childhood programs, whether at home, school, or day care. Donna Bister said it was hard to separate indicators from what would be useful to measure progress over time. Commissioner Dale offered to report to the Council on the number of children in subsidized slots in quality child care programs.
Rob McIntyre said that lead levels were not a good indicator because they only apply to screened children and older housing. The Council discussed the issue of homelessness, whether it was included in the category of “housing” and how to obtain data. Commissioner Dale said he would provide some information from the “one-night count” at the Council’s next meeting. Carlen Finn said Voices for Vermont’s Children had just released a report on homelessness. The Council also addressed whether children’s performance in school was a useful indicator.
Karen Richards, who was unable to attend the Council’s first meeting, introduced herself to the Council. She is the director of the poverty law project at Vermont Legal Aid.
Sen. Racine led a discussion of possible starting points for the Council’s report. He mentioned documents mailed to Council members as reference. He said Connecticut’s Child Poverty Report was a possible template. As well, the Policy Mattters report’s table of contents could provide guidance on how to frame the issues. There were also recommendations to review in Vermont’s previous commission report from 1999, as well as the From Poverty to Prosperity report.
The Council then discussed how to frame questions for the public process. Sen. Racine said the questions would be a starting point for the subcommittee to refine the questions for the public forums.
Questions as a starting point:
What are the barriers folks in poverty face?
What do you feel you need to get out of poverty?
What can individuals do something about?
What can society do something about?
What would help you address poverty?
What are the circumstances or factors that put you in poverty?
What are people’s aspirations? What’s on the horizon?
Can you comment on limits what you are affected by; even if you are optimistic
you will be successful?
What does it mean to be out of poverty?
Council members mentioned the need to collect written information as well.
At 12:10 p.m., the Council recessed for lunch and reconvened at 1:00 p.m.
● Notes, Edna Fairbanks Williams
● The Positive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health, A Research Summary, Center for Housing Policy
● Fact Sheet, Center for Housing Policy
● The Affordable Housing Crisis: Residential Mobility of Poor Families and School Mobility of Poor Children, Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2003
● Changes in Income Distribution in New England, University of New Hampshire, Fall 2007
Edna Fairbanks Williams, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council representative, referred the Council to her two handouts in which she outlined what it was like for people living in poverty in terms of programs and housing. She spoke of the layers of the poor.
Erhard Mahnke, Coordinator, Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, followed up testimony from the previous meeting, presenting information and noting that housing is the foundation for success for children and families.
Tony Morgan, Director, Office of Economic Opportunity, Department for Children and Families, Agency of Human Services, talked about the economic opportunity operating philosophy and framework. He presented his vision:
The economic, emotional, educational, physical, and spiritual conditions in which children in poverty live are improved through:
● The enhancement of income and earning potential of their family
● The building of family assets
● Creating and supporting the affordability of housing, health care, and education
● Maintaining the safety net for families with multiple barriers
● Enhancing the family structure and stability
● Supporting low income people owning a stake in their community
Future Economic Trends
● Act 21 Research and Analysis for the Legislative Livable Income Study Committee, Executive Summary, 11/2/99
● New England has the Highest Increase in Income Disparity in the Nation, Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire, Spring 2007
Sen. Racine introduced Nolan Langweil, the new Joint Fiscal Office staffperson replacing Steve Kappel, who would be working on health care.
Tom Kavet, Economist, Consultant to the Joint Fiscal Office, briefed the Council on economic trends affecting income distribution and poverty in Vermont and the U.S. and reviewed the relevance to the Council’s work of the Livable Income Study mandated by Act 21 of the Vermont Legislature in 1999. He also discussed how measurements of livable income differ from poverty thresholds and mentioned that the Joint Fiscal Office updates state livable income measures each year.
He referred the Council to a recent Carsey Institute report which noted that “New England is a generally prosperous region and its residents are doing relatively well economically. Yet, between 1989 and 2004, the region experienced the largest increase in income inequality in the country:
● Household average real income declined for the lowest income families
● Mid-range incomes grew less than national counterparts
● Income growth was concentrated in the top quintile of households”
He reviewed taxes and benefits that make it hard for a poor family in Vermont to improve aggregate income, despite full-time employment. He said it was not just a question of raising incomes, but also acknowledging public benefits that may be disproportionately reduced and increased taxation as incomes rise. He suggested revisiting the 1999 study so as to examine the interaction between income, taxes, and benefits that affect the poor in Vermont and examining specific policy measures that could ensure incentives to work and raise the real net incomes of those at poverty and minimum livable income levels.
Tom also stated that the broad public policies and larger economic forces that had served to widen the gap between the richest Americans and the poorest over the past 25 years would likely continue during the next 10 years, making state-level anti-poverty efforts especially challenging. He cited U.S. Census data on household incomes that show that the average real income of the wealthiest 5% of the U.S. population (at almost $300,000 per year in 2006 dollars) is now more than 26 times that of the lowest 20% of the population (at just over $11,000 in 2006 dollars). This ratio has steadily increased from less than 15.8 times 30 years ago, indicating that much of the country’s economic growth over this period has accrued to a relatively small percentage of the population and heightened income inequality in the State and nation.
Tom Kavet said that at a future meeting he could respond to other specific questions regarding forecasts of economic conditions over the next ten years that could affect poverty in Vermont and related policy measures designed to further the purpose of the Council in addressing this issue.
Labor Market Presentation
● Vermont’s Labor Market: Vermont Children’s Poverty Council, Vermont Department of Labor, 9/13/07
Patricia Moulton Powden, Commissioner, and Andy Condon, Economic and Labor Market Information Chief, Department of Labor, reviewed the Vermont Department of Labor’s presentation. They discussed changes in growth by industry, major changes in the industry section composition, including the loss of manufacturing jobs, and an increase in education, health care, professional, business services, and government jobs. They discussed other data relating to the top 10 industries in Vermont, rankings by average wage and wage growth. They said employment growth is slowing, but unemployment remains relatively low. They also reviewed data relating to workforce age population growth, top occupations and the education required.
Other Council Discussion
Council members mentioned potential witnesses for future agendas: experts from Washington, D.C. or other organizations and educational institutions; Paul Costello, Council for Rural Development on insights into drivers of systemic poverty; area land trusts, for example Rockingham’s affordable housing project’s successes and challenges.
The Council adjourned at approximately 3:00 pm.
/s/ Rachel Levin, Legislative Council