Homelessness Remains on the Rise in Vermont S135 discussion

Regarding S.135

A couple of neighbors and I have been discussing s.135 and the destruction it will bring to low-income Vermonters. Here are some of the high points.

The State does NOT match the 5% forcibly being taken out of low-income Vermonter’s checks without consent, and employers are FORBIDDEN to put in any money either. In addition to the 5% the state will be taking out, of these people’s checks, the State can also charge an annual $30 fee for running the program. Using the estimate of 88,000 low-income Vermonters who will be forced into this program, 88,000x $30 per year = $2,600,000 dollars annually being made by the State off the backs of low-income Vermonters; most of which are women or black according to the law.

In addition, under section 536: Protection from Liability, the employers and THE STATE are protected from any liability INCLUDING “(F) any loss, deficiency, failure to realize any gain or any other adverse consequences, including any adverse tax consequences or loss of favorable tax treatment, public assistance, or other benefits, incurred by any person as a result of participating in the Program.” In other words, the State is forcing low-income Vermonters into a program, taking roughly $208 a month of income without consent, plus an additional ±$30 a year, to supposedly benefit these disadvantaged members of society: “§ 532. VT SAVES PROGRAM; ESTABLISHMENT (a) Establishment; purpose. There is established the VT Saves Program (Program), administered by the Office of the State Treasurer, for the purpose of increasing financial security for Vermonters by providing access to an IRA for Vermont employees of companies that do not currently offer a retirement savings program.”. “Providing access” is a bit misleading: they don’t have a choice. Their employers are required to take it out of their paychecks and will be fined if they don’t.

Even better, according to the writing of the law, the legislature admits they are not guaranteeing there will be anything left when the employees retire. Not only that, but they admit these low-income vulnerable Vermonters may lose their Medicaid, WIC, and / or SNAP benefits due to having a retirement plan (or having too much in their retirement plan to stay on the programs they are relying on for nutrition and health). And even worse, when they DO retire, the retirement fund may keep them from being able to get medication they need if they have medical issues such as the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) Extra Help Program (Part D assistance) and SNAP benefits.

That is what has happened to Millions of seniors this year because of the 8.7% increase in the COLA this year. The extra $30-$100 or so extra they are receiving this year is just enough to put all of these seniors and Veterans over the income limit for Medicare Savings Programs, Extra Help with prescription costs (Extra Help Part D), SNAP assistance, and state and local assistance programs that can help with heat, electric, food, and water bills in every State in the country. I help screen people who may be eligible for these programs and listen to them cry and beg for help day after day because they have no food in the refrigerator and must choose between food and their life saving medications. And since the increase in the COLA was so high, and states have done nothing to compensate for the increase as far as increasing the income limits by the same amount, our seniors and Veterans may have $100 more in their checks, but they lose their Medicare Savings Program ABD coverage, which pays the $164.90 Medicare premium, Hospital and Doctor co-pays, and most importantly their medication copays (Part D). In addition, the increase puts their income too high for services from CVOEO in many cases to help with heat and electric bills. (In Vermont you can only make $1235 a month to receive ABD and have $9090 in resources, including IRA’s as an individual. All other MSP options only pay the $164.90 Medicare premium, but don’t help with Doctor, Hospital, or prescription co-pays, including when the member goes in the Medicare Coverage Gap.) To give you an idea how crazy that is, a 1 bedroom 1 bath 630 sq ft senior living apartment in Rutland costs ±$1400 a month.

The legislature is so out of touch with the people they are supposed to be writing laws to help they are doing far more harm than good. It’s time to replace them with “commoners” who understand what is really going on in the world, understand the financial struggles people are facing, and know what a budget is and how to stick to it.

What good does a retirement plan do these people if taking the money from them now puts them out on the street? A report from June 2022 showed, “For the second straight year, more Vermonters were found living in shelters or on the streets than a year earlier — including a one-third increase in the number of unhoused families with children — according to an annual one-day count of unhoused people statewide.

The number of Vermonters living in shelters or on the streets on the night of Jan. 26, 2022, increased 7% from the year prior — from 2,591 people to 2,780 — according to a report Thursday from the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness. That included 857 individuals in households with at least one adult and one child, up from 629… The report comes as low-income Vermonters continue to struggle with skyrocketing rents, inflation and a tight housing market, especially in high-density areas such as Burlington.“

Over a year ago everyone who doesn’t live under a rock knew the program sheltering homeless people was going to end June 1 this year, and there was no solution for the high cost of housing. “As attention shifts from the pandemic to other issues, Hahn stressed that there’s more work to do when it comes to supporting unhoused people in Vermont. The state’s hotel and motel program, for example, is slated to end next year. Without concrete transition plans, people in motels may have no choice but to return to congregate shelters or the streets.

At the same time, the social services sector lacks enough staff to deal with the increased need for support, Hahn said. And plans to build permanent housing have been slowed down by the high cost of raw materials and a lack of construction workers.”

June 1 this year over 2,800 people are back “living” on the streets. And part of that is the State’s fault. I worked for an agency that attempted to find emergency housing for people; people would call up to get emergency housing and get mad when they were told there were no rooms available. They would insist we house them because their friend called them and told them if they came to Vermont, they could get housing immediately because there is no residency requirement. You don’t have to have lived here for any amount of time, you don’t have to have contributed anything to the state for a year or show you are going to get a job or be a productive citizen. Same with welfare; all you need is an address. A PO Box will do, and you can move right up and start receiving “benefits”.

This retirement program, touted as a way “to increase financial security for Vermonters” by taking rent money out of their pockets is another Train wreak that will do nothing but increase the number of homeless people and families.

I lived in a condemned house with no water, septic, or heat for 8 years (in part because of mental health issues and in part because the owner who I thought was a friend turned out to be a narcissist and thwarted all my attempts to leave), because there was nothing available to rent, and the State program that HOPE tried to help me with was not set up to succeed.

I am a rare fortunate one: I was able to get myself back on track, reintegrate into society, secure gainful employment, and bought a house in October of 2022.

During those 8 years I frequently wondered about why affordable housing was such an issue. There is, to me at least, a “simple” solution, one Middlebury and the State had a perfect chance to enact a few years ago when the Blue Spruce Motel burned down.

Start a tiny house village. We have multiple trade schools and centers in Vermont. The students work under the direction of certified trades-people. Green Mountain Technology and Career Center has Electrician and HVAC Tech, the State of Vermont Department of Education lists Career and Technical Education courses for Carpentry, Construction, Building Trades; Northlands Job Corps has a building-construction-technology-pre-apprentice program. Use them to build the tiny houses. It would be a great way for the students to get real hands-on experience and make a positive impact in the State that they can be proud of. Start the residents off as tenants. Give them an opportunity to buy their tiny house. Use the proceeds to build more tiny houses. I know there are grants out there that could be applied for to buy materials to build the first tiny houses. A location already on the bus route would be ideal.

Retirement savings are fine for people who can afford it and choose to have it. However, what about people who barely live paycheck to paycheck already, who must choose between rent and food but make too much to receive financial assistance? And I still don’t see how this is even Constitutional; it will interfere in Vermonters’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if they end up out on the street or going hungry; and I still don’t see how the Government can just decide they are going to walk into people’s “house”, take money out of their “safe”, walk out the door and use it for whatever the elected officials decide they want to. I realize $2,600,000 is a nice chunk of money, but it is not there for our elected officials to just take as they please. Otherwise, what is to stop them from coming back and taking more money for the next program that will “benefit” low-income Vermonters?

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I think the most cause of homeless is the drug addiction issue