Statehouse Headliners: Fewer Vermonters need welfare benefits

By Guy Page

The number of low-income Vermonters receiving benefits from two mainstay ‘welfare’ programs has declined significantly since 2013.

The decline hasn’t been caused by budget cuts, income reclassification or bureaucratic slight-of-hand trying to make a situation look better or worse than it actually is. The simple truth, say state officials, is that many Vermonters once on welfare have found work and don’t need or qualify for the benefits anymore. To quote Vermont Digger’s Oct. 5 story about funding cuts for the Committee on Temporary Safety (COTS):

[DCF Deputy Commissioner Sean] Brown said there is less need for Reach Up case managers since enrollment in Reach Up has dropped by a third — from about 6,600 in fiscal year 2013 to 4,600 in the current fiscal year. … Brown said a decrease in the Reach Up caseload is a good thing because it’s a sign that more families are working. By comparison, he said enrollment in 3SquaresVT — formerly known as food stamps — and the low-income heating assistance program are both down around 25 percent.

As a result, the state of Vermont is reallocating some funding away from COTS and other agencies dealing directly with low-income people in crisis, Brown said. At Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference Wednesday October 13, press secretary Rebecca Kelley confirmed that the caseload reductions are directly related to the declining number of Vermonters requiring these services.

Fewer people on welfare. More people working. Now that’s good news.

Gov. Scott responds to VPIRG “not listening” complaint about carbon tax

“The governor isn’t listening,” says the headline for an Oct. 4 press release by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG encouraged supporters to urge a carbon tax at summer/fall public hearings of the Governor’s Climate Action Commission. Many did. In apparent response, Gov. Scott said in a Sept. 26 Facebook post:

Imposing a carbon tax on our workforce would be detrimental for Vermonters and our state’s economy. As I’ve said many times before, I will veto a carbon tax if it comes to my desk because we cannot make Vermont more affordable by making it less affordable. I created the Vermont Climate Action Commission to make recommendations to address climate change while setting Vermonters on a path to affordability and driving economic growth. Input from the public is important to those efforts. But, as I’ve said in the past, real solutions will strengthen the economy and not add to the crisis of affordability many families and businesses are facing.

By his response, Gov. Scott shows he is listening: not only to VPIRG (listening and agreeing aren’t the same thing) but to the many Vermonters who picked him over a likely carbon tax supporter last November. He thinks Vermont can do better than enact a punitive tax on basic transportation and home heat, especially hurtful to those who face a “crisis of affordability” just getting to work and staying warm. Kiplinger’s just listed Vermont as the sixth least tax-friendly state. Imagine the burden if we became the first state in the union to pass a carbon tax. Comments to the Climate Action Commission may be submitted here.

Full disclosure: Writing as an interested Vermonter and not my affiliations with the Vermont Energy Partnership or ISO-New England Consumer Liaison Group, I have submitted to the Climate Action Commission and published on an essay of consumer-driven ideas to reduce emissions and strengthen our economy: “We Will Not Be Driven, But We Can Be Led: One Vermonter’s Vision For A Consumer-Driven, Clean Energy Future.”

A tale of two agriculture commissions: marijuana and dairy

One newly formed commission is studying the pros and cons for a new, controversial, currently illegal agricultural sector: cultivation and sale of marijuana. Another – far less well publicized – is trying to save dairy farming, an iconic tradition and a billion-dollar producer for the Vermont economy.

As stated in the previous Statehouse Headliners, the governor’s Marijuana Advisory Commission does not consider legalization inevitable, recent headlines to the contrary. Co-chair Jake Perkinson reportedly corrected this false impression at a recent meeting. That’s some comfort for legalization opponents, who must nonetheless engage with the commission en route to its December 2018 final recommendation to Gov. Scott.

In a related story, the members of the Vermont Medical Society will consider a resolution reaffirming its opposition to marijuana legalization at its annual business meeting Nov. 4 at the Woodstock Inn.

Also, Daryl Rogers, the father of a young athlete and Eagle Scout who became a marijuana abuser and who died in a marijuana-related car crash, will tell his story and answer questions from Vermonters concerned about widespread marijuana use among teenagers at several Central Vermont locations next week.

Mr. Rogers will speak at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Baptist Fellowship of Randolph, 1051 Rte. 66 in Randolph; and 9 a.m. Oct. 22 at Living Hope Wesleyan Church, meeting at Crossett Brook Middle School, 5672 V-100, Duxbury. All events are free and open to the public. He is also speaking at several public school and medical professional events.

Chase Rodgers died in 2014 when the car in which he was riding left the highway and hit a tree at 60 mph. It was being driven by a girl who had used marijuana. The young lady survived the accident, but subsequently committed suicide.

“The message is strong and surprising for many who might believe it is only a ‘certain group of people’ who are inclined toward marijuana, when that is not true,” said event organizer Bob Orleck of Randolph. For more information contact Mr. Orleck,, 802-728-9806.

The Vermont Milk Commission met for the first time in six years September 26 in Montpelier to discuss how to help Vermont lawmakers in Washington influence the milk pricing section of a federal farm bill up for passage in 2018, according to the Oct. 11 Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in dairy-heavy Orleans County. The commission was reinstated by legislation earlier this year.

Vermont’s dairy farms have been challenged by a several consecutive years of low milk prices. Although the number of milking cows is down only slightly since 2009, the number of farms has dropped during that time from 1,051 to 786. At present farmers earn $17.36 per hundredweight for milk that costs about $20 to produce.

Deer jackers, beware game wardens’ decoy “sting”

On the same Oct. 11 front page of the always-interesting Chronicle, it was reported that state game wardens arrested a 20-year-old would-be deer jacker from Westfield for shooting at a decoy deer on Oct. 6, the eve of bow season. Game wardens reportedly set the decoy in a field in Troy, hid, and waited. The suspect shot at the decoy, saw the wardens break cover, and then fled the scene, but was apprehended.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.

Image courtesy of Michael Bielawski/TNR