As a mother, there is nothing more important to me than ensuring children and families thrive in Vermont. I am a legislative champion of efforts that support, protect, and care for children, youth, and families.
Childcare. Access to affordable, high-quality childcare is crucial to the well-being of children and the financial security of families and employers. Over the past several years we’ve invested significant funding in childcare programs to help them weather the pandemic. The FY23 state budget includes increases to base funding of $4.9 million for childcare providers, $1.5 million for parent child centers, and $900,000 for children’s integrated services. In addition, we provided ongoing funding for early childhood educators to pursue continuing education with the support of student loan relief and tuition assistance, and allocated an additional $1.0 million for retention bonuses for childcare workers.
This spring I was appointed to the Building Bright Futures State Advisory Council, which is charged with “issuing recommendations and increasing coordination & collaboration to advance a more connected, integrated & evolving early childhood system.” We’ve commissioned two major reports on early childhood education governance and financing to make recommendations to the Legislature on options to strengthen and support the early childhood system. I am eager to engage in this work!
I was a primary sponsor of S.91, a bill that enhances the statewide network of Parent Child Centers (PCCs), including the Addison County Parent/Child Center in Middlebury. PCCs provide crucial support, education, and care for vulnerable young parents and their children, working to reduce teen pregnancy, improve child health, and promote good parenting. The bill establishes eight core services that all centers must provide as well as a peer review system to ensure quality and accountability. We also increased ongoing and one-time funding for PCCs to strengthen their preventive work during the COVID recovery.
Tax Relief for Families. The increase in state revenues during the pandemic allowed us to provide $40 million in targeted tax relief to Vermonters who need it the most. The package prioritizes children and working families with a new $1,000 tax credit for most families with young children under 5 and an expanded child and dependent care tax credit for families with childcare, after-school & summer care expenses. The package supports working adults and college affordability with an expanded earned income tax credit (EITC) for working Vermonters with modest incomes and student loan interest deduction for middle- and modest-income Vermonters. Finally, the package enhances the financial stability of seniors and vulnerable adults with a more generous Social Security tax exemption for retired Vermonters, added military and federal employee retirement tax exemptions, increased support for vulnerable seniors, blind, and disabled Vermonters, and an expanded tax credit for families with eligible vulnerable adult or eldercare expenses.
Supporting Transgender Youth & their Parents. Vermont recognizes the importance of letting transgender youth know that they are seen and valued for who they are, protected from stigmatizing policies that jeopardize their health and well-being, and supported by a community that wants to see them thrive. This is language from J.R.S.53, a joint resolution supporting transgender youth and their parents who seek essential medical care for the treatment of dysphoria. The Senate passed the resolution unanimously in the wake of numerous discriminatory and dangerous actions by policymakers in other states around the country, as well as incidents of violence and harassment against transgender people in Vermont. I worked to draft the resolution and had the honor of reporting on the resolution on the Senate floor. We cannot allow bigotry and hate to prevent access to crucial healthcare or put vulnerable youth in harm’s way.
Child, Youth, and Family Advocate. Children and youth and their families, particularly those involved with state Department of Children and Families (DCF) programs, are some of the most vulnerable Vermonters. The systems created to serve them can also be some of the most intimidating and confusing. Therefore, I was a leading champion for H.265, now Act 129, that establishes the Office of the Child, Youth, and Family Advocate to help children and their families navigate a daunting system and advocate for them when a problem arises. The Advocate would also seek to improve that system; monitor and analyze relevant policies, programs, and data; and respond to questions and complaints from Vermonters. With the creation of this office, Vermont joins most other states, including every other state in New England, in ensuring that children and families have an avenue to raise their concerns with specific state programs and get them resolved.