BY REP. ERIN BRADY
And that’s a wrap! The 2021 session is certainly one for the record books, as legislators conducted the entire session on Zoom and managed the vast infusion of federal aid that has come to our Green Mountain State.
Our just-passed state budget for FY2022, totaling $7.35 billion, focuses on the COVID recovery of Vermonters and their communities. With the help of substantial federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, we were able to make numerous high-impact, once-in-a-lifetime investments.
Our budget strengthens systems and services that increase health and well-being. It brings broadband and connectivity to unserved Vermont communities to facilitate remote work, telehealth, online learning and small business creation. It invests in childcare to increase affordability and accessibility. It makes a massive investment in increasing affordable housing stock for low- and middle-income Vermonters. It prioritizes climate change and clean water. Finally, I am proud of how this budget begins to intentionally center racial and social equity in our investments.
For those wanting even more detail, two interactive dashboards show how the $1.25 billion in federal funds has been allocated and spent so far. These tools allow users to display and filter data several ways and are available at: www.spotlight.vermont. gov/expenditures-it-and-employees/ crf-transparency. This is a remarkable source of information from the Vermont Department of Finance and Management.
Recognizing the unprecedented opportunity beyond FY2022 provided by these federal dollars, our state budget includes the authorization for a statewide, community-based engagement process to solicit from Vermonters their thoughts for investing in the future of our state. Vermonters’ recommendations will then be reported to the requisite legislative committees for budget and policy development. As soon as I know more, I look forward to sharing the details of this opportunity to help invent our future together.
I am also pleased to share several policy accomplishments this session.
Kids, families and education
• We took monumental steps toward reforming our childcare system to make care more affordable, ensure fair wages for providers and create a study to identify future revenue sources for a more subsidized universal childcare system.
• We provided immediate increased access to health care for income-eligible pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status.
• We made strategic use of federal relief money to improve the health and safety conditions in schools by taking a statewide inventory and assessment of all school buildings and requiring radon testing in schools; this will put Vermont in a good position should a federal infrastructure bill come to pass.
• We provided additional resources for literacy instruction and created an Advisory Council on Literacy to engage in innovative thinking to improve literacy outcomes across the state.
• We created a new grant program that will allow eligible districts to innovate as “community schools” to become hubs that help kids and families access vital services such as health care, mental health counseling or help with food or housing, often right in the building. The bill also kick-starts a grant program to help schools buy more food that’s grown or produced locally and moves us closer to achieving universal school meals. (We did a lot of work on this in my committee and it is my favorite bill of 2021.)
• We approved a large grant to the Vermont State Colleges, UVM and VSAC to provide up to two free classes to adult Vermonters looking to boost job skills or change careers, and one free class to all 2020 and 2021 high-school graduates. Grads can go to www.vsac.org/try-one-course-tuition-free to get this much-deserved graduation present!
• We acknowledged that systemic racism is a direct cause of the adverse health outcomes experienced by BIPOC communities in Vermont by passing a joint resolution, J.R.H.6, and created a “Health Equity Advisory Commission” made up primarily of Vermonters whose lives have been impacted by historic inequitable treatment in accessing health care.
• We apologized for sanctioning and supporting eugenics policies and practices through legislation that led to forced family separation, sterilization, incarceration and institutionalization for hundreds of Vermonters by passing a joint resolution, J.R.H.2.
• We expanded the Office of Racial Equity by adding two positions to this important work.
• We started the conversation about putting the state’s public pension system on a path toward long-term sustainability so that teachers, troopers and state employees can rely on a well-funded, solvent system when they retire. H. 449 made governance changes to the Vermont Pension Investment Commission to include more financial expertise and established the Pension Task Force to meet this summer.
• We allocated funds for a dozen systems upgrades, including replacing the four-decades-old mainframe at the Department of Motor Vehicles, modernizing the Bright Futures Information System to serve childcare programs, addressing severe technology constraints at the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance program, and making critical cybersecurity upgrades.
• We created a package of programs and benefits (S. 62) that will support workers and employers post-pandemic and shore up the unemployment insurance system for the future.
• Finally, as a social studies teacher who wants all of my students to graduate feeling that their voice matters, I am particularly thrilled that we passed S. 15 to continue to allow universal vote-by-mail. Record voter turnout was a “silver lining” in the pandemic as Vermont saw turnout at 74 percent participation!
Since I cannot summarize everything the Legislature accomplished here, I encourage you to go to my website (www.erinbradyforwilliston.com) to read a more detailed report on the session, or reach out to me at ebrady@leg. state.vt.us.
It has been an honor to represent Williston in these difficult times and I look forward to connecting with our community this summer while I’m out on the bike trail with my kids, stopping at Adams Farm for ice cream and exploring the farmer’s market at Isham Family Farm.
Erin Brady represents Williston in the Vermont House of Representatives.