Thank you to all who joined Common Good Vermont (virtually) on December 15th to warm up for the 2022 legislative session. We shared policy updates from the state and national level, gleaned insights from a panel of key policymakers, and honed our skills with two Action Circles advocacy trainings led by Amy Shollenberger.
Session 1: Opening Remarks, Federal Update, and 2022 Nonprofit Agenda
The event began with opening remarks from Common Good VT Director, Morgan Webster, and United Way Northwest VT CEO, Jesse Bridges.
Jesse Bridges’ remarks hit the nail on the head, stating that “Advocacy is not just how we talk to our legislature. It’s not not just how we lobby the state. It’s how we talk to our community. It’s how we talk to constituents. It’s how we talk to each other.” He also reminded us that “while [nonprofits] are a force for good, we are not just human and social services. We are not just arts and community organizations. Nonprofits are a key part of the Vermont economy. The nonprofit sector is a key piece of Vermont, its identity and its economic vibrancy and success moving forward.”
Morgan Webster drove this point home with data, specifying that “Nonprofits employ 1 in 7 Vermont workers, making the VT nonprofit sector the second largest industry in the state, after the government. Vermont nonprofits contribute $5.7 billion per year to the economy through wages paid, retail and wholesale purchases and professional service contracts, which is equivalent to nearly 20% of the state’s gross state product, greater than the manufacturing and construction industries combined.”
Following opening remarks, National Council of Nonprofits’ VP of Public Policy David L. Thompson and Policy Associate Jessica Mendieta shared federal advocacy updates and presented results from the Vermont edition of the National Nonprofit Workforce Shortage Survey.
During their presentation, David Thompson explained that “We define nonprofit advocacy as however we can answer: who can we talk to today to advance our mission? Advocacy is talking to each nonprofit together, because we are a unified whole.” In speaking about Vermont, he observed “One in 7 is a much higher percentage of nonprofit employment; most states are at 1 in 10, so you do have a much greater voice and you do have a greater opportunity to influence things.”
Lastly, Common Good Vermont shared our anticipated 2022 state legislative agenda, which focuses on Pandemic Relief for Nonprofits, Nonprofit Workforce Systems, Policies, & Training, Nonprofit Data and Transparency, and Government-Nonprofit Partnerships; as well as key issues coming this session.
Please share your experiences to inform our advocacy around policy issues impacting nonprofits. Please take a few minutes to complete CGVT’s 2022 Advocacy Survey!
Sessions 2 and 3: Action Circles Advocacy Trainings
Amy Schollenberger of Action Circles led two nonprofit advocacy trainings with key insights on this upcoming budget. While these sessions are not public, Action Circles will be hosting additional advocacy trainings and opportunities to ask questions next session. Visit www.action-circles.com to stay informed!
- Introduction to Nonprofit Advocacy (in a Hybrid World):
Remote meetings have dominated the way business is done by legislators in the past year and a half, but in-person meetings are becoming more common again as we move from crisis to recovery. From the State House to online systems, participants learned techniques to maximize the efficacy of advocacy in a “hybrid” world.
- Federal Money and the State Budget Process:
Understanding the budget process is key to getting legislation passed that requires funding, and the influx of federal funds due to the covid pandemic has created an unprecedented opportunity of available one-time funds for the budgeting process. In this session, participants: learned what the Vermont budget process is and how/when to get involved to advocate for specific funding requests; received an overview of the federal money that has come to Vermont in the past year and a half, including how decisions are made, and who makes them; and gained tips for talking with legislators about funding requests, as well as an understanding of why Action Circles recommend you “do all the things” (and what those things are) for policy goals that include state funding.
Session 4: 2022 Legislative Session Policymaker Panel Discussion
In our final session, we heard from four policymakers regarding key issues coming this session that will impact nonprofits.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale provided a pre-recorded message discussing the myriad “interrelated urgencies” such as workforce/economy, housing, education and climate challenges that she anticipates the Senate Economic Development Committee will be focused on in 2022, and highlighted the need to address them in a way “that doesn’t leave anyone behind.”
Rep. Charlie Kimbell provided a high level overview of the issues he anticipates will be focused on in the legislature this upcoming session. Pandemic recovery is one of these areas. In addition to determining how to allocate ARPA and other federal funds, he raises the point that “the stresses that are on our communities and individuals – is it mental health? Is it continued unemployment? Is it continued voluntary separation from the workforce? – that are all issues that have really risen because of the pandemic…we’re going to be dealing with those for some time.” He also points to broadband, mobile communications, childcare, and affordable housing as other key issues. When asked about what policymakers can do to support nonprofits at this time, he named providing consistent funding as a key component of workforce development “so they can plan and structure their programs to provide the most impact possible.”
Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, as the chair of the Unemployment Insurance Study Committee established by the legislature last session, focused her remarks on unemployment law. She led with a specific ask for nonprofits, stating: “frankly, I am desperate for some feedback from all of you about this. Because of the particular way the Secretary of State’s database works in relationship to how the Tax Department’s database works, it’s really hard for us to get much information beyond the incredible surveys CGVT has been able to do about which nonprofits are sort of sitting in different buckets of unemployment insurance law.”
She is asking for feedback on two nonprofit-specific issues the committee is looking at that surfaced during the pandemic. The first issue is an exemption to unemployment law that does not require nonprofits with fewer than four employees to provide unemployment insurance. Employees of organizations that fall into this category are often surprised to find they are not covered by UI, especially during the pandemic, so in the interest of providing equal UI protections for all employees, the legislature will be considering a proposal that would eliminate this exemption. The second issue the committee is working on is reducing benefit claim liability for reimbursable employers. Under current law, reimbursable (or self-insured) employers are liable in full for claims made by former employees to whom they paid wages to during their base-period, even when the employee left their organization voluntarily. The mass exodus from the workforce due to the pandemic caused reimbursable employers to experience a substantial, unexpected financial blow. To this end, the committee is considering shuffling around liability, so the most recent employer bears greater responsibility. They are also considering the possibility of adding a bonding requirement for reimbursable employers. If your organization would be impacted by either of these issues, please reach out to Common Good Vermont and/or the UI Committee.
Sen. Becca Balint spoke to the workforce crisis, felt by nonprofits and employers around the globe, noting that currently the labor force in Vermont is down 7% (25,000 people), with 10,000 open positions on the Dept. of Labor’s job board. She pointed to housing, childcare, and workforce training as areas to invest in to support our workforce going forward. She also recognized the challenges some nonprofits experienced when applying for pandemic relief, and said that we need to hold the administration accountable for “seeing the pandemic through to the end and making sure we all have the supports we need.”
When asked what advice she had for nonprofit advocates, Balint said “What we want is for you to actually tell your story, your experience, both in terms of the work your nonprofit is doing and the work that you personally are doing. We’re ready to listen.”
Action Items and Additional Resources
Whether you were able to join us on December 15th or not, please let us know how CGVT can support your organization this session AND share about your experiences to inform our advocacy around policy issues impacting nonprofits. Please take a few minutes to complete CGVT’s 2022 Advocacy Survey!
- Sessions 1 & 4 Slides
- National Council of Nonprofits Workforce Shortage Reports
- National Council of Nonprofits Economic Impact Report
- Unemployment Insurance
Lastly, sign-up for the Vermont Nonprofit News to stay informed on all things nonprofit advocacy.
Thank you to our partners, funders, and sponsors for making this event and our work serving nonprofits possible.