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VCDR 2018 “END OF SESSION” REPORT

The mission of VCDR is to advance the human and civil rights of people with disabilities to ensure full and equal participation in all aspects of community life and the political process

VCDR 2018 LEGISATIVE PLATFORM – Excerpt:

“Preserving a Legacy of Disability Rights and Services”

Over the last four decades Vermont has established laws ensuring rights and services that support self-determination, inclusion, and equality of opportunity for individuals with disabilities and their families. These decisions have helped make Vermont a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families to live, work and contribute to our shared communities. Together we can preserve the civil rights and social services that have made this possible.

This year Vermont — like every state in the nation — is experiencing unprecedented change and uncertainty. Our 2018 Platform reflects this reality. Sweeping changes in civil rights, education, health care, workforce issues, and community development are being considered in every state and in our nation’s capital. As we consider change, we must find ways to preserve the gains of the past. Disability programs and policies that placed Vermont ahead of most of the nation are at risk.

The community services and safeguards that Vermonters with disabilities depend on are underfunded and community nonprofits that provide essential services are unable to provide adequate wages and benefits to a workforce providing essential services.

We continue to build on what works well and to change things for the better by adopting fiscal strategies that support livable wages and adequately fund the programs that make it possible for people with disabilities and other Vermonters to succeed, thrive and contribute.

VCDR Members worked on and adopted the VCDR 2018 Legislative Platform. Members met with administrators, legislators, prepared testimony and informed their members about what was being considered in Montpelier on disability budget and policy issue related to the VCDR Platform and other.

 

VCDR PLATFORM ISSUES

Budget, Education, Civil Rights including: Health Care reform; Medicaid; Livable Wage for direct support workers; Rehabilitation Services for the blind and visually impaired; Pay Equity for Children’s Integrated Services professionals; Integrating Family Services; Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT); Repeal the “Tax” on low-income families with children Reach-Up benefits; Medicaid for Working People with Disabilities; Legal Assistance for families with education needs; Special Education in private and independent Schools, Safeguarding Civil Rights and Protections, people with disabilities in prison; use of force in emergency departments, Expand Protections for crime victims with disabilities, alternatives for people in crisis.

TESTIMONY

VCDR’s regular organizational members, self-advocates, and family members testified 32 times in committee and /or at public hearings. Associate members and Consulting members speaking on disability issues testified another 25 times. Other advocates that VCDR partners with testified in excess of 22 times on VCDR Platform related issues. Thirteen VCDR Board members with disabilities testified along with another five family members.

Public Hearing Activity

VCDR Members worked with other advocate organizations and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to help facilitate a public hearing on Access to Health Care. The hearing took place using the Legislation introduced this Biennium: S.53 – An act relating to recommendations for achieving universal coverage for primary care in Vermont. Many folks with low income and disabilities came out to testify.

DISABILITY AWARENESS DAY 2018

Over 350 people flocked to the Statehouse on Feb. 28 for our annual “Disability Awareness Day”. They spread the word about the event’s theme: “Our Community, Our Health, and Our Well-Being.” Members of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights let lawmakers know that health begins where people live, learn, work and play.

VCDR President Sarah Launderville said, “Disability Awareness Day is a day of solidarity for the disability community. We share stories, teach and learn from one another, testify and advocate.

A highlight of the day was a graduation ceremony for graduates of the 2018 Vermont Leadership Series, which trains Vermonters with developmental disabilities, and their family members, to be advocates for positive social change.

The keynote address was given by Caroline Whiddon, executive director of the Me2/Orchestra, the world’s only classical music organization dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

VCDR member organizations, staff members and volunteers engage individuals with disabilities and family members in Vermont’s legislative and policy activities, enabling them to have a voice in the administrative and legislative decisions that affect their daily lives and civil rights.

Legislative Summary

The FY 2019 budget proposed by the governor included dramatic reductions in critical human services including: developmental disability services, grant reductions, reach-up support services, healthcare subsidies and legal representation for the poor.

In May of the 2018 legislative session the Legislature passed the FY 2019 Budget and Education Financing and Tax bill a number of policy bills. The Budget and Tax bills passed with overwhelming support in both the House and the Senate.

The Budget Bill passed with a number of key restorations to important Human Services that had been proposed to be cut in the Governors original budget and a number of additional investments by the Legislature with the availability of “one time” additional revenues from tobacco settlement and general fund revenues.

The Tax Bill included the property tax increase voted on by local school districts, an increase in the earned income tax credit, and an exemption on Social Security Income taxes below a certain level among other adjustments to the Vermont tax laws to address federal changes.

The Governor vetoed both the Budget and Tax bills objecting to any property tax increase in a year when there was additional revenue available. The Legislature wanted to invest the money in other pressing needs. Both sides sought to save money in different ways.

In the end, after a special session and the end of the fiscal nearing threatening a government shutdown, the Legislature passed a third budget with some compromises on taxes and the use of one-time money and the Governor allowed the bill to go into effect without his signature. The final bill that passed maintained the original budget cut restorations and some of the tax restructuring in the original Budget and Tax bills.

Documents can be found at: 2018 Special Session – Budget & Tax Documents http://www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/budget_fy2019.aspx

Please go to the VCDR Website: www.vcdr.org and Click on VCDR Legislative Wrap-Up, July 2018 for detailed Budget Information

 

BUDGET and TAX HIGHLIGHTS

  •  Reverses Administration’s proposed cuts to Developmental Services Program, restores $4.3M total ($2M GF)
    • Reverses Administration’s proposed elimination of attendant care services to people with severe disabilities (e.g. quadriplegia, paraplegia, MS)
    • Provides a 2% ($1.8M total) reimbursement increase to community service providers like the visiting nurses that enable elderly or individuals with disabilities to remain in their homes and communities (includes Adult Day,
    • Meals on Wheels, Homemaker, Respite, Companion Services, Choices for Care, Hospice, Personal Care, and Enhanced Residential Care)
    • Adds $4.3M to increase compensation to mental health clinical and direct service staff at Designated Agencies
    • Funds strategic reform in the adjudication of Child Welfare cases to better protect children and assist families and increases judicial system resources to respond to growing child welfare workloads related to the opioid epidemic
    • Reverses Administration’s proposed cuts to Primary Care doctors and Community Health Clinics
    • Provides funding for Brattleboro Retreat to make capital improvements to add 12 Level 1 mental health beds
    • Funds Medication Assisted Treatment for inmates; improves reentry support for inmates
    • Provides $1M in funds for tobacco control programs with special focus on reducing smoking prevalence among pregnant women
  • Provides $200,000 for supportive housing vouchers in mental health

 

  • Maintains cost sharing assistance for health insurance deductibles and out of pocket costs for 6,100 working families
  • Increases child care provider reimbursement for infants and toddlers;
  • Provides $5M to fund an initiative to address the workforce shortage of mental health and substance use disorder treatment professionals
  • Collapses top two income tax brackets and lowers all personal income tax rates by 0.2%
  • Expands the Vermont earned income tax credit from 32% of the Federal EITC to 36%
  • Exempts taxable social security benefits from State income taxes for single filers with less than $45,000 in adjusted gross income and married filers with less than $60,000 in adjusted gross income.

POLICY LEGISLATION

Although both a Minimum Wage Increase (S.40) and a Paid Family Leave (H.196) bill were passed by the House and Senate, the Governor chose to Veto both bills, and they did not become law.

 

SELECTED LEGISLATION PASSED (See VCDR Legislative Wrap-Up for more complete details)

 Act No. 173 (H.897). Special Education – An act relating to enhancing the effectiveness, availability, and equity of services provided to students who require additional support

This act changes the State funding model for special education for all supervisory unions in fiscal year 2021, from a reimbursement model to a census-based model. It also (1) creates an advisory group to assist the State Board of Education in developing its rules to implement these statutory changes (2) requires the Agency of Education to conduct a study of weighting factors used to determine education property tax rates and to consider whether the census grant amount should be increased for supervisory unions that have, in any year, relatively higher costs (3) requires the Agency of Education, for the 2018–2019, 2019–2020, and 2020–2021 school years, to assist supervisory unions to expand and improve their delivery of services to students who require additional supports; and (4) creates three new positions within the Agency of Education to support special education services.

This act provides the State Board of Education with further tools to deal with an approved independent school’s lack of financial capacity and requires approved independent schools that accept public tuition to enroll students on individualized education programs if placed by the local education agency.

 Act No. 207 (S.280). An act relating to the Advisory Council on Child Poverty and Strengthening Families

This act establishes the Advisory Council on Child Poverty Strengthening Families for the purpose of examining structural issues in Vermont that lead to families living in poverty and prevent families from moving out of poverty. A VCDR Representative was added to this Council.

 Act No. 204 (S.261). An act relating to ensuring a coordinated public health approach to addressing childhood adversity and promoting resilience

This act aims to build upon 2017 Acts and Resolves No. 43 to better coordinate services throughout the State that address childhood adversity and toxic stress and build resiliency. It establishes a Director of Trauma Prevention and Resilience Development within the Office of the Secretary of Human Services for the purpose of directing and coordinating systemic approaches across State government that build childhood resiliency and mitigate toxic stress by implementing a public health approach.

 Act No. 172 (H.608). Older Vermonters Act working group. An act relating to creating an Older Vermonters Act working group

This act creates an Older Vermonters Act working group to develop recommendations for an Older Vermonters Act that aligns with the federal Older Americans Act, the Vermont State Plan on Aging, and the Choices for Care Program. The working group’s recommendations are due to the legislative

 Act No. 188 (H.907). An act relating to improving rental housing safety

This act adopts provisions relating to rental housing safety, including creating a rental housing advisory board; improving effectiveness of local health officers; enabling rental housing safety inspection reports; creating a database of rental housing units; and creating an accelerated weatherization and housing improvement program

 Act No. 125 (H.921). An act relating to nursing home oversight

This act creates the Nursing Home Oversight Working Group to examine the oversight of nursing homes in Vermont, including their financial stability and licensing criteria. The Working Group must report to the General Assembly by January 15, 2019 with its findings and any recommendations for legislative action.

 Act No. 200 (S.203). An act relating to systemic improvements of the mental health system

This act makes numerous miscellaneous changes to the State’s mental health laws, including several provisions related to mental health parity and evolving plans to increase inpatient capacity. It expresses legislative intent to increase the number of inpatient psychiatric beds in a manner that ensures clinical best practice, support the development of UVM Health Network’s proposal to expand capacity at the Central Vermont Medical Center campus, and replace the temporary secure residential recovery facility with a permanent facility. The act requires the Secretary of Human Services to provide regular updates to the Health Reform Oversight Committee pertaining to the status of proposed renovations at the Brattleboro Retreat and the UVM Health Network’s proposal.

 Act No. 147 (H.727). An act relating to the admissibility of a child’s hearsay statements in a proceeding before the Human Services Board

 This act creates an exemption to the hearsay rule with respect to statements made by a child 12 years of age or under who is alleged to have been abused or neglected and provides that such a child shall not be required to testify or give evidence at any hearing before the Human Services Board regarding a substantiation proceeding.

 Act No. 153 (H.874). An act relating to inmate access to prescription drugs

This act amends the process for providing inmates access to prescription drugs after admission to a correctional facility

 Act No. 176 (S.166). An act relating to the provision of medication-assisted treatment for inmates

This act authorizes State correctional facilities to continue medication-assisted treatment to those inmates who enter a facility while undergoing medication-assisted treatment and for whom the continuation of medication-assisted treatment is deemed medically necessary. It further authorizes State correctional facilities to facilitate the commencement of medication-assisted treatment using buprenorphine among inmates for whom medication-assisted treatment is medically necessary and who were not receiving medication-assisted treatment on their entry into a facility

 Act No. 210 (S.262). An act relating to miscellaneous changes to the Medicaid program and the Department of Vermont Health Access

This act makes several changes concerning Vermont’s Medicaid program, the duties of the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA), health care provider taxes, bronze-level qualified health benefit plans offered through the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange, and other programs and entities.

Act No. 104 (H.271). An act relating to administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

This act requires the Department for Children and Families to report to the Chairs of the House Committee on Human Services and the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare within 30 days after a substantive change to the federal law governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that restricts or improves eligibility; increases or reduces barriers or creates or eliminates hardships to access; or inhibits or increases benefit usage.

Act No. 210 (S.262). An act relating to miscellaneous changes to the Medicaid program and the Department of Vermont Health Access

This act makes several changes concerning Vermont’s Medicaid program, the duties of the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA), health care provider taxes, bronze-level qualified health benefit plans offered through the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange, and other programs and entities. It requires financial institutions, when requested by the DVHA Commissioner, to provide DVHA with financial information regarding any person or a person’s spouse who is applying for or is receiving assistance or benefits from DVHA, and specifies that the financial institution will not be subject to criminal or civil liability for doing so.

 GRANT ACTIVITIES

Once again this year VCDR is “Growing Grassroots” with the help of a continuing grant from the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council. We are building a campaign to involve more Vermonters who experience a physical, sensory, psychiatric, developmental or other disability, and their families, in our work. We are also reaching out for new organizational members and other allies, individuals and organizations who share our commitment to protect rights and services that make self-determination and community participation possible for all Vermonters. Please contact us about sharing you stories.

Sarah Launderville, VCDR President slaunderville@vcil.org

Karen Lafayette, VCDR Coordinator kmlafayette@aol.com

 

 

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