Affordable Housing and Healthcare

This week is the final Addison Independent candidate forum, focusing on two issues that are vital to our community: health care and housing. You can read all of my answers about the issues raised by the paper here. Here is the prompt and my answer:

Health care insurance, finding affordable housing and education are the three cost drivers in society. We’ve discussed education. As Senator what measures would you propose to help make housing and health care insurance more affordable? 350-500 words.

According to a recent statewide survey, 47 percent of respondents cited the expense of housing or healthcare as the item that creates the most financial stress in their lives. I would work to expand access to affordable housing and healthcare, and provide Vermonters livable wages that can support these basic necessities.

The housing shortage in Vermont most impacts individuals in crisis, families with low or modest incomes, individuals with long-term care needs, and the elderly. As a result, there is a growing homeless population, and people who need assistance often go without vital services because of a lack of stable housing. In addition, our prison system incarcerates people who would be better, and more affordably, served through community-based supportive housing programs.

In order to address the growing housing crisis, I would:

1) Target investments toward transitional, supportive housing for individuals and families in crisis who need intensive services such as substance use counseling and medical care; domestic violence protection; and mental health stabilization.

2) Expand development of affordable supportive housing units to serve individuals who are in need of long-term or permanent services, such as disability support, eldercare, and assisted-living.

3) Incentivize development and renovation of moderate-sized homes close to town centers for young professionals and families, or retired Vermonters seeking to downsize housing and expenses.

4) Support organizations already working on expanding affordable housing, such as Addison County Community Trust, WomenSafe, John Graham Shelter, and Charter House.

5) Secure funding through publicly financed bonds and loans; savings in corrections and social services; federal, state and local funds; and private sources.

My experiences working at the Open Door Clinic and Planned Parenthood underscored the reality that people still do not have adequate access to affordable healthcare. And, during many conversations with voters, concerns about healthcare have come up more than any other issue.

I support enacting publicly-financed universal primary care so we all can go to the doctor when we need basic and preventative care, including mental health, substance use, and dental care services. The current Dr. Dynasaur program, which provides health services to children from families with low incomes, could serve as a model for such a program. Having all Vermonters participate would enhance health equity, reduce risk, and enable continued work on cost containment.

Local public and private budgets already fund such care, so investments at the state level would allow savings in these budgets. Further, savings could be had through reductions in costly emergency and specialized care necessitated by lack of access to primary care.

Moving beyond primary care, I support efforts to form a coalition with other states working on progressive healthcare reform to create a broader universal care program. This would create strength in numbers and buoy Vermont’s ability to advance healthcare access, particularly because progress at the federal level appears unlikely in the near future.

Healthcare reform is complicated, and recent efforts have produced skepticism among many policymakers. However, like with housing, we must work to ease the financial, physical, and emotional stress many Vermonters experience when they need healthcare.

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