Food insecurity, affordable housing discussed at public hearing on Vermont budget

Vermont News

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) – On Monday, dozens of Vermonters weighed in on Governor Phil Scott’s FY 22 budget proposal during a remote public hearing, calling for additional funding to support a host of relief programs.

A handful of speakers testified about food insecurity, with volunteers from local food shelves across the state calling for more support for the Vermont Foodbank amid the pandemic.

“Along with several other volunteers, I run the Sheldon Methodist Church food shelf,” said John Gorton. “In 2020, we served 2131 families, 6,070 people distributing about 225,000 pounds of food. The Vermonters Feeding Vermonters Initiative is very important for several reasons. This program helps local producers get a fair price for their products even though I give those products away at no cost to my clients.”

The Vermonters Feeding Vermonters program allows local food shelves to purchase high-quality local food directly from Vermont farmers and producers to share with people across the state facing hunger.

Gordon estimates the program allowed his team to distribute at least $500,000 worth of food on a budget of just $30,000.

There was also testimony about free school meals for students, which have been made available throughout the pandemic.

Karyl Kent, President of the School Nutrition Association of Vermont, urged Vermont lawmakers to prepare for free school meals to become the norm even after the pandemic is over.

“When these waivers end, there are a great number of school districts who are not wanting to go back to the paid meal system, we want to find a way to keep the universal school meals going,” Kent said. “This is going to be a big burden of work onto our child nutrition program, and we want them to be prepared with enough staffing to be able to continue programming seamlessly.”

Other groups, including the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, urged the state to continue funding assistance for homeless Vermonters, over 2500 of whom are currently living in motels paid for by the state.

“Right now, what we need is permanent housing for those folks to transition to, we need rental assistance, and supportive services for those with the greatest challenges,” said Erhard Mahnke. “The state needs to continue to be the backstop, and be responsible for emergency housing for Vermont’s most lowest-income and most vulnerable citizens.”

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