LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - DECEMBER 2021 - I wish you and your family lots of joy and togetherness as we mark the end of 2021. For many of us, 2021 proved to be another challenging year managing life in a pandemic. I am hopeful our brave little state can make bold moves in 2022 to help Vermonters better meet their basic needs and strengthen our communities to be more inclusive and equitable. Here is my last update of 2021, containing more new bills awaiting introduction in January and some important highlights/news.
STATE RESOURCES First, here are a few resources for you and our neighbors:
Booster shots are now available for many Vermonters. Register for a vaccine appointment or get info on walk-in clinics online or call 855-722-7878. https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine
Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) is now live and accepting applications for Vermonters who need assistance with paying rent, past-due rent, utility and home energy cost, and past-due utility bills. The program is open to Vermonters with household income at or below 80% of area median income (AMI) Vermont Income Limits. For Chittenden County that’s $61,000 for a two-person household and higher as the household size increases. VERAP also helps landlords cover repairs for rental property related to lead paint, replacing fuel tanks/heating equipment and more. This piece of the program is underutilized, so please take note! https://erap.vsha.org/
Vermont Health Connect Open Enrollment: Now is the time to sign up or make changes to qualified health plans (health insurance) through Vermont Health Connect. Even if you’ve never qualified, you may qualify now! Apply online or call 1-855-899-9600 before January 15, 2022. https://info.healthconnect.vermont.gov/how-apply
EMBRACE micro-business grants (up to $5000). This is a re-funded state program for businesses with five or fewer employees. This round of funding will be available to start-up businesses who opened since December 31, 2020 as well as any micro-business who has not received an EMBRACE grant in the past. Spread the word! https://mbdp.org/embrace-grant
POLICY WORK UPDATES
Earlier this month I received word Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility selected me as their 2021 Legislator of the Year. I am humbled by this recognition of my work to advance more equitable economic development policy and my specific work to lift up the stories and needs of BIPOC owned Vermont businesses. In November, I attended my first physical session at the Statehouse to consider the Governor’s proposal to enable towns to enact mask mandates. I was disappointed the Governor threatened to veto any variations of his proposal. The legislative and executive branches of government should work together, especially in a public health crisis. I was also concerned with the Governor’s approach to push important public health policy decisions to the local level when this pandemic requires a coordinated statewide response. I voted in support of the local town approach because communities needed an immediate tool to fight the virus, but we need better science-based policy in January. You can read/view my speech on the Governor’s proposal here. https://www.emmaforvthouse.com/post/rep-mulvaney-stanak-s-mask-mandate-floor-speech-and-criticism-of-gov-scott-s-approach
STATE CONTRACT TRANSPARENCY
The State of Vermont issues millions of dollars worth of contracts for services to private for-profit and non-profit entities every year. I’ve been curious about improving legislative decision making on what services should be done by state government to build expertise and internal capacity on ongoing state needs, rather than relying on outside contractors. With better contractor data reporting, the state can make better equity-informed economic and workforce development policy by learning more about its contracting trends and gaps. For example, we could report on data points that tell us how many BIPOC or women-owned businesses end up winning state contracts, what workers performing the services are paid in terms of wages/benefits, and much more. I will introduce a bill in 2022 to require the state to annually publish a searchable listing of all contracts that include critical data points such as ownership demographics, workplace practices of contractors, and starting wages. I consider this a strong companion bill to my colleague Rep. Tanya Vyhovsky’s H.364 bill that strengthens the requirements for entities looking to bid on state contracts.
I also plan to introduce my second bill on unemployment, building off my unemployment modernization bill (H.359) from last session. The core focus of this new bill is to create an unemployment insurance advocate office independent of the Department of Labor. The office will mimic the current Health Care Advocate Office by helping Vermonters navigate the unemployment system, track trends and policy improvement areas, and field complaints. The second aspect exempts the first $10,200 of an individual’s income from state income tax if the person received unemployment benefits in 2021. This repeats state and federal tax policy in 2021 to support working people with small reductions in income taxes as our economy recovers from the pandemic. Unemployment will be a big topic in my committee as we also look at two important reports - one from the Auditor’s Office and the other from the UI Taskforce - on other system changes needed to improve our system.
As always, please reach out with questions or feedback. Take care of yourselves, get the vaccine/booster if you are able, and I will see you all in 2022!