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Voices for Vermont’s Children outlines 2024 legislative priorities

Vermont Statehouse August 26, 2023
Pat Bradley
Vermont Statehouse August 26, 2023

A group that advocates for Vermont’s children and youth is outlining its priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

For nearly 40 years, Voices for Vermont’s Children has been working on issues such as child safety and wellbeing, education equity, poverty and paid family and medical leave.

Policy Director Amy Rose led the presentation, first explaining that their policies are based on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Oftentimes when we’re talking about our policy priorities we’re asked to list like our top one, or our top two, or our top three. And this is intentionally kind of a blurry list because Voices is connected to many conversations around many different topics and they’re all intersecting and they’re all important. But it’s really difficult for us to say here’s the one thing we can do to kind of make life better for children, youth and families. We’re really trying to operate at the speed of trust and see how all of our priority areas intersect and in doing that we can show how some of the conversations we’ve had throughout the year.”

Rose says the state needs to reassess current funding mechanisms for child poverty and support programs that provide the resources to children, youth and families. She says one element the legislature must address is expansion of tax credits.

“In 2024 we’re hoping to expand on the tax credits that have already been passed and to add some new categories into that work. One of the opportunities will be to increase the amount of Vermont’s EITC from 38% to 100% of the federal EITC for filers without children and 55% for filers with children; to create a new $1,000 foster care tax credit for 18-to-26-year-olds leaving the foster care system. We do have a couple of bills that are in the legislature right now that would offer direct cash transfers to youth transitioning out of foster care as well. We’re also hoping to broaden eligibility to reach those who have been left out. We want to extend the child tax credit to families with children of any age who have disabilities. And then we want to make the credits more accessible.”

Affordable housing is a key issue across Vermont. Pointing to the state’s hotel voucher program as an example, Rose called on the state to find housing solutions.

“We have kids in places with adults who can’t find other housing because of criminal backgrounds and so it’s a really difficult situation. It’s often better than not having an option. But we have to think more creatively around creating safe family housing, creating very temporary crisis intervention housing and then also to create much more long-term stable opportunities and support systems.”

Voices for Vermont’s Children is also reviewing child custody, abuse, safety and visitation laws. Rose noted that children have no status or voice in legal proceedings and is one of three states that does not allow children to express their wishes.

“We would like to change that. There is a bill that is more broad around youth voice in court and we’re hoping to kind of narrow that down this year just to include the wishes of the child as a part of our best interest statute.”

Rose says while gains have been made in some sectors, the legislature must take a broad view to support youth and family needs.

“We also want to keep in mind how we support our structures of support. And so we can’t really have a conversation about the needs of children and youth and families without naming the structures that support those children, youth and families. And so true shifts in outcomes will require shifts in the way that we invest in our support structures. Adequate housing supplies, technology systems that are effective and well cared for employees are critical to creating the conditions where children, youth and families are well.”

The Vermont Legislative session begins January 3rd.

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