Legislators Propose Menu of Options to Help Working Vermonters

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 11, 2015
CONTACT: Chris Pearson – 802-860-3933


Growth of Income

MONTPELIER, VT – An informal coalition of Democrats and Progressives in the Vermont House of Representatives think income inequality is hurting Vermont's working families and want to see policy that addresses this challenge. Using data from the Vermont Department of Taxes the group point out that income growth between 2009 and 2012 overwhelmingly went to those at the top of the economic ladder. Tax filers earning over $1 million saw income grow by an average of 73%. People earning under $25,000 annually saw income decline between 1.6% and 3.2% in that same period.

"Income inequality hurts our state, undermines our economy, and has most Vermont families barely treading water or falling further behind," said Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) who emceed the coalition's event.

The ten proposals offered by this group ranged from boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour to earned sick days, guaranteed family leave, health subsidies, assistance for home weatherization and more. Each would benefit low income and working families, according to the presenters.

"The work to give Vermonters at the lower end of the economic spectrum the tools and resources to achieve a dignified life never ends. The livable wage rose fifty cents this year – and it still does not contemplate personal debt, like college or consumer loans. To be humane, our minimum wage should stay ahead of this number, and it should apply to every worker, including those who have worked for tips," said Rep. Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury).

Rep. Jean O'Sullivan (D-Burlington) talked about a bill to regulate so-called "Rent-to-Own" stores. "This  bill makes sure that Vermonters will know the fair market value of the new and used products and how long and how much they will have to pay in order to own them," said O'Sullivan. The bill establishes clear disclosure of the effective annual percentage rate and makes sure that rate is in compliance with the federal Truth in Lending Act. It also caps the effective annual percentage rate at 24%.

Also in the package is a bill that would mandate earned sick time so that every Vermonter could accrue paid leave. This issue is especially important to low-income women across the state, said lead sponsor, Rep. Tristan Toleno (D-Brattleboro). "President Obama has highlighted the need for this policy and I hope Vermont can pick up the mantle. This issue hits lower-income families, especially women who often play the role of caretaker when children get sick." The bill permits sick time to be used for your own illness or when a worker needs to care for an immediate family member.

Rep. Paul Poirier (I-Barre City) spoke of the need to make out-of-pocket deductible more affordable in Vermont Health Connect's Exchange market place. "There are far too many working families among the 90,000 under-insured Vermonters," said Poirier. He has a bill to have the state further subsidize the insurance plans to more closely match the costs Vermont had under the former "Catamount" plans.

Many members of the coalition play a role in the Legislative Workers' Caucus which helped to push the minimum wage proposal up to $10.50 during the 2014 session.

The 10 bills:

1)    $15 minimum wage – Rep. Tom Stevens
2)    Earned sick days – Rep. Tristan Toleno
3)    Increase weatherization fund – Rep. Mary Hooper
4)    Increase health exchange out of pocket subsidies – Rep. Paul Poirier
5)    Paid family leave – Rep. Chris Pearson
6)    Small farm viability (chickens) – Rep. Robin Chesnut-Tangerman
7)    Reach up college savings proposal – Rep. Sandy Haas
8)    Rent-to-own regulation – Rep. Jean O’Sullivan
9)    Ban the box – Rep. Joanna Cole
10)    Gas price discrepancy – Rep. Chris Pearson



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