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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

Poverty is Not Natural

May 9, 2018

reptomstevens

I was privileged to report S.40, a bill that proposes to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, on the floor of the Vermont House of Representatives. This long-awaited report and vote was important, as it was the result of a deep dive by the Senate, a summer study committee, our state economists and our committee, General, Housing and Military Affairs. It was also controversial, for a number of reasons. What I found, not unanimously or universally, is that support for raising the wage was related to one’s experience with poverty, and with working for a poverty wage.

I realize that calling the minimum wage a poverty wage can be offensive to some, especially to those who pay that wage, or fight to keep the wage low. Poverty is a word, concept and reality that we don’t like to talk about, and when we do, we somehow find a way to blame the poor for their poverty, as if they are in complete control of their fate and future when they are trapped in a minimum wage job.

For some, working for this wage extinguishes hope. For some it is the first or second rung on a ladder toward self-sufficiency. But until then, people must rely on benefits like child care subsidies, food stamps, the earned income tax credit and Medicaid, none of which provide all the services a family in poverty may need.

I supported the increase because I know well the effects of poverty on the health of a family, and how it affects a person through their whole life. Our research considered as many facets of the impact of raising the wage across six years, and, by a majority along party lines, we felt the benefits of raising the wage, especially at this slow rate, were far healthier for Vermonters than not raising it. This included conversation with small business owners, representatives of large businesses, economists, and, yes, Vermonters who struggle to make ends meet because they can’t work enough hours at a poverty wage to do so.

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Last Scene of All, That Ends This Strange, Eventful History

April 24, 2018

reptomstevens

Every year, I reserve a date close to Wm. Shakespeare’s birthday to do a devotional prior to our day’s work in the State House. This year, I was planning on tying the prescience of Shakespeare and the demise of net neutrality — a big stretch, for sure, but it seemed workable in February. Instead, current family events resonated more deeply with the famous words of Jaques in “As You Like It.”

I have spent a lot of time over the past year in places that have, believe it or not, a higher average age per resident than the Vermont State House.

Nursing Homes. Or, more precisely, long term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, councils on aging.

They have us beat. 

I was there with my mother. My mother is diminishing before my eyes, and the eyes of all five of her children. 

I have a photo of her from two years ago, when she was merely forgetful, or in the throes of chemo brain, after treatment for colon cancer, and she is pretty vibrant. She’s standing with my brother Paul, and they are smiling, two peas in a pod.

And that’s no surprise, because my mother, starting back in 1965, committed her life to taking care of Paul, who has Down Syndrome. She fought like hell in the late 1960’s to make sure he was not institutionalized, and in the 1970’s she fought like hell to make sure he, and other developmentally disabled friends, were allowed to be mainstreamed in our public schools, and in the 1980’s  and 1990’s she fought like hell to make sure Paul had the governmental services he needed to thrive in the community, and she fought like hell to make sure that the community had a spot for Paul.

I have another photo of my mother taken during her most recent hospital stay, when she was recovering from a fall, and from pneumonia, and from a UTI, and from the flu. She is not vibrant in this photo — she is clearly tired, ill, and somewhat empty, a preview of the weeks and months to come, as the Alzheimer’s takes her away from herself.  Read more

Town Meeting Report 2018

March 5, 2018

reptomstevens

While it is too soon to tell what bills we’ve brought across the line by Crossover Day will become law at the end of the session, we think it’s important for you to know what we’ve been working on since January. Our 2018 Town Meeting Report is ready for reading, and we hope you take the time to check it out. Thank you for allowing us to serve on your behalf in the Vermont Legislature.