Committees have been busy wrapping up their work as we approach the end of the session. There is still much to be determined, so here is a brief update on how things are progressing with regards to:
H. 55, the unemployment insurance bill that would eliminate the small nonprofit UI exemption and create an outreach and education program for nonprofit employers, has been wrapped into H. 217 by the Senate Economic committee. Common Good VT testified earlier in April in support of the language as passed by the House, and as of now, the sections of the bill impacting nonprofits remain in tact in the new vehicle. The original bill H. 217, sets the workers’ compensation rates. S. 101 has also been rolled into H. 217, which expands benefits and improves processes for workers’ compensation recipients.
Provider Rate Increases
Related to the work of the Government Grants & Contracting Working Group, a preliminary report assessing the impact of FY23 provider rate increases was submitted to the Legislature by AHS. This has caused some to question Are human services budget increases making an impact? We would respond by asking, Are human services budget increases enough to meet Vermonters’ needs? In any case, report findings are largely inconclusive and trends were not consistent across agencies:
H. 121 is a bill related to consumer privacy, including provisions addressing the protection of biometric data, data minimization, and data brokers. This dense bill was pieced together from legislation in other states, making it difficult to comprehend, even for those impacted by it.
It has been brought to our attention that the bill may have implications for nonprofits. Not just those that manage biometric data, but also for those who use third party services to handle sensitive information such as donor databases. Some states that have passed/considered data privacy legislation have included a nonprofit exemption. You can learn more about data privacy bills and the potential impact on nonprofits here.
The committee plans to work on this bill over the summer to make it easier to understand, as well as to hear from additional stakeholders, with plans to pass it by the end of the biennium. We feel it is critical to have nonprofit voices heard on this issue. If you have concerns about what data privacy legislation could mean for your organization, please email [email protected] or reach out to the Committee directly.
Senate Appropriations voted out “The Big Bill” last week, which is now on the Senate Calendar with a proposed committee amendment. A summary of the bill as amended by the Committee can be viewed here. For more detail:
- One-time Appropriations Summary
- Senate Provider Increases (vs. House)
- Senate Health & Welfare Cmte. Summary of Advocate Budget Requests
- Housing Summary
- New Positions in Budget and Other Bills FY24
The Senate Economic Development Committee has been busy working through the 10 (substantial) bills they received from the House, as acting Chair Senator Clarkson, stepping in for Senator Ram-Hinsdale temporarily, explains here. Among these is H. 484, the workforce bill.
CGVT Intern, John Harrington, explains the workforce provisions in more depth:
Bill H.484 advanced to the House Committee on Appropriations on March 23, 2023. Otherwise known as the Workforce Development Bill, this legislation hopes to address statewide workforce challenges through various programs meant to enhance workforce and economic opportunities throughout Vermont. The bill addresses sectors that have been particularly affected by workforce and retention challenges.
One notable component of the bill pertains to teacher development, looking to train and retain Vermont educators. The bill proposes an allocation of $2.5 million of General Fund money to a Forgivable Loan Incentive Plan, offering a year of student loan forgiveness for each year of work in a Vermont Public School. It also establishes the Emerging Pathways Grant Program, meant to fund the training of prospective and aspiring educators, hoping to increase the rate of program completion and licensure. This grant also helps to address lack of diversity in the teaching profession. $30,000 are specifically aimed at establishing a Historically Underrepresented Affinity Groups Grant Program, aimed at supporting and developing educators from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
The bill also aims to address the particular retention challenges faced by the Department of Corrections. H.484 allocates $500,000 to provide supervisory and management development services, as well as to establish peer support systems. This money is meant to assist corrections workers and facilitate higher workplace satisfaction, with the ultimate goal of improving workplace culture and increasing retention rates.
H.484’s reach extends beyond these specific sectors, and aims to strengthen the overall quality of Vermont’s workforce through professional development and adult education while encouraging in-state employment. The bill allocates $1.5 million to adult education and literacy, with a particular emphasis on refugee populations and the currently incarcerated to develop professional skills. On a broader scale, H.484 provides funding to higher education institutions throughout the state. Building off of Act 183, the bill allocates $1.25 million to UVM’s Office of Engagement, incentivizing recent graduates to remain in Vermont with $5,000 forgivable loans in exchange for a 2-year commitment to working in-state. Other initiatives include the development of academic programs in restorative justice, 3D technology, advanced manufacturing, and criminal justice, among others.
Loan forgiveness is a prevalent theme in the text of H.484, seeking to address the disparity between level of necessary skill and pay. Loan forgiveness aims to encourage in-state employment in such positions as Nurses, Dental Hygienists, Mental Health NPs, DAs, and SSAs. All of these are highly skilled jobs whose salaries are often inadequate, especially for those faced with heavy student loans.
On the Senate side, workforce appropriations and language from H. 484 were inserted into H. 494, the budget bill. Senate Appropriations requested a cut of $2 million from the Workforce Development Bill, urging the Senate Economic Development Committee to reduce general fund spending for the bill’s one-time appropriations to $40,000,000 from its original $42,207,026. On April 19, the Committee voted on changes to funding in the following areas:
- Fund allocations were increased in two areas. $2,000,000 were added to the Relocated Workers Program, which the committee members were enthusiastic about in its ability to successfully promote the state’s workforce.
- $117,000 were also added to fund Vermont’s 250th Anniversary Commission, doubling its size to a total of $324,000.
- A proposed $3,000,000 to UVM’s Office of Engagement was cut entirely, as committee members seemed to agree that such funding for adult education already existed through other institutions, and would perhaps be better allocated to community and state colleges with the ability to reach a wider geographic area.
- Funding was trimmed for the development of a Restorative Justice bachelor’s program at VSC, as well as in Regional Development & Growth through the Rural Industry Development Grant program.
- Notable for Vermont nonprofits was the trimming of general funds to the Vermont Serve, Learn & Earn program. Funding was reduced by $124,026 to a total of $2,275,974. Serve, Learn & Earn is a program developed by Audubon Vermont in collaboration with ReSOURCE, Vermont Works for Women, and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. Its mission is to stimulate the Vermont economy through education and training in the areas of forestry, carpentry, food security, outdoor recreation, and more. Serve, Learn & Earn aims especially to include groups underrepresented in terms of gender identity, race, and age.
- The April 19 changes maintained the allocated funding of $255,000 to United Way’s Working Bridges program which specializes in “job retention, productivity, and advancement”.
Here are the Senate Economic Development Committee’s recommendations for workforce investments: