Creating an Inclusive Economy

Housing for All:

Housing is more than just a building. It’s the basic unit of infrastructure for our well-being and prosperity. It’s where we live, raise our families, find safety and refuge, and create memories. We all deserve a home that is affordable to rent or own and accessible to work. Unfortunately, in Vermont, this isn’t feasible for many Vermonters.


Pathways to Homeownership:

As we navigate an escalating housing crisis, we must remember that the middle class does not create homeownership. Homeownership creates the middle class. Unfortunately, a lack of housing, especially affordable housing, leaves homeownership out of reach for too many Vermont families, especially Black and brown Vermonters.

As a State Senator, I helped first-time and first-generation homebuyers get the support and assistance they needed to realize their homeownership dreams. I also led on historic reforms to end discrimination against multifamily housing, allowing duplexing by right anywhere in Vermont and promoting density in our downtowns and village centers. We must increase support for similar programs at the federal level and make it easier for working families to become homeowners.


Renters’ Rights:

When I entered the House of Representatives in 2009, I joined the committee overseeing housing and economic development. At the time, I was the only renter in the legislature, and I took my perspective and made sure renters were represented in the decision-making process.

Far too many Vermonters are trapped in a cycle of high-rents and low wages, and communities can be displaced from neighborhoods they have spent their entire lives in because of spikes in the cost of rent. We need common sense rental control measures that protect our communities, while expanding the number of available rental units to drive down prices. 

Tenants also deserve protections from landlords who are not fulfilling their end of the bargain. This legislative session, I advanced local charter changes to eliminate “no cause” evictions, ensuring that renters are not unfairly forced to leave their homes and eliminating the subjectivity that allows discrimination to influence evictions. In Montpelier, I will continue to work with our local communities to understand their specific needs and work to ensure those needs are met by local and federal funding.


Investments in Affordable Housing and Ending Homelessness:

Our public housing system desperately needs additional investment and modernization to revitalize infrastructure and decarbonize existing structures. In addition, I support repealing the Faircloth Amendment to allow for the construction of new public housing units, something the federal government has been prohibited from doing since 1999. We also have an opportunity to end homelessness by pursuing “housing first” models and providing permanent supportive housing to folks experiencing chronic homelessness. 

Finally, we need to strengthen the Fair Housing Act to prevent discriminatory barriers vulnerable populations face when seeking to rent or purchase housing. This includes updating the law to prevent discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, or if the tenant or buyer is using a housing assistance program like a rental voucher. 


Investing in Rural Families and Working Vermonters:

Every Vermonter deserves the opportunity to have work that brings joy, dignity, and economic security. Programs like the Civilian Climate Corps and the National Health Service Corps are a start, but more support for small business owners and farmers will be critical to achieving this. So will investing in projects that retrofit our homes, buildings, and schools. All of this and more is necessary. 

This will also require boosting federal funding to better support our rural schools, including paying and supporting teachers for their hard work, investing in extracurricular activities for students, and funding green, resilient, and modern school infrastructure. We must stop the worrying trend of school consolidation, especially of our elementary schools, and instead support increased investments in rural education, including skilled trade and vocational education to keep our communities vibrant.


Expanding Access to Connectivity and Broadband:

Internet services keep our communities connected across the state. Good internet access is essential for a community’s success in today’s economy, and it should be a right. Unfortunately we know that rural communities, communities of color, and low income communities disproportionately lack access to broadband. We must make massive investments in our infrastructure to deliver high-speed broadband internet to everyone in this country. But providing access to high speed internet is not enough, we must bring down the costs and break up the monopolies that have ignored our communities and driven up prices. 


Supporting Farmers and Agriculture:

Farmers are the backbone of our community. In order to support small family farms we must break up the big ag monopolies that depress prices for small farms, invest in farmers, particularly farmers of color, and provide funding and technical assistance to farmers transitioning to more sustainable agricultural practices.

We must invest in small family farms. Currently, a majority of subsidies go to big farms while small farms receive very limited help. I will work to change this so that a majority of subsidies and assistance goes to small family farms. I will prioritize funding for historically disadvantaged farmers, new farmers, and farmers who engage in regenerative farming practices. In addition to reforming our current system, I will increase funding to programs that help farmers transition to more ecologically friendly farming practices, provide technical assistance, and help farmers get access to land and equipment.

As we work to invest in our farmers, we must prioritize targeted support and funding for socially disadvantaged farmers who have historically denied resources to support and grow their farms. This includes support in purchasing land, equipment, and training and education opportunities. Immigrants play a central role in keeping our farms running, yet they have no protections. We must create a pathway to citizenship for migrant farm workers in our state, establish strong workplace protections, and guarantee that farmworkers can report workplace violations no matter their immigration status.


Prioritizing Seniors:

Older Vermonters have long held our communities together and we must honor that. This year, I worked with the Treasurer to spearhead Vermont Saves, a voluntary opt-out retirement savings program that will ensure tens of thousands of Vermonters are saving for their future. In the Senate, I will prioritize ways to keep our communities vibrant and intergenerational. To do that, we must ensure comprehensive care for all, including long term care and home and community based services. That also requires that we address senior poverty and strengthen social security, all of which is doable. This is how we help older Vermonters age with dignity. 


Strengthening and Expanding Social Security:

We all deserve the right to retire with dignity and security. Nearly 70 million Americans and over 155 thousand Vermonters rely on Social Security benefits to make ends meet. Yet, this program is frequently targeted for cuts or privatization schemes, with constant calls to raise the eligibility age so that fewer older Americans receive benefits from the program they paid into their entire lives. 

I have been a strong advocate for expanding access to Social Security and I will work to strengthen and increase benefits and ensure future generations can safely rely on social security. I will work to make sure benefits increase so that they meet the growing costs of care.


Cutting Drug Prices and Providing Comprehensive Health Care:

Pharmaceutical corporations charge Americans the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world. All you need to do is cross the Canadian border to see the stark contrast in drug prices: for Type 2 Diabetes, as just one of many examples, the price is $1,000 cheaper than in the U.S. We must lower the costs of prescription drugs and stop the outrageous price gouging from Big Pharma. 

I have introduced legislation to empower a Prescription Drug Pricing Board in Vermont to weigh the relative costs and benefits, and fight for better prices for Vermonters. I would fight to dramatically bring down costs and help patients access low-cost prescriptions from industrialized countries by allowing Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. Finally, I would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to tie the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. to the median price for the equivalent drugs in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan.

I believe in a Medicare for All that includes home and community based services and long term care for seniors, and I will work to ensure seniors have swift access to these services that allow them to live in dignity and in their communities.


Ending Senior Poverty:

After a lifetime of working hard, raising and providing for a family, and contributing to the community, older Vermonters deserve to live with dignity and financial security. 

It is unacceptable in the United States that anyone lives in poverty – especially our seniors. In Vermont, 11 percent of our seniors are living at or below the poverty line, and nationally over 15 million Americans over the age of 65 are economically insecure. We can and must do more to ensure our neighbors are cared for and do not face financial barriers to basic necessities like food, housing, or medicine. I will fight to expand social security, lower costs for seniors, and invest in critical programs that keep seniors healthy.  

In 2019, 5.2 million seniors experienced food insecurity, meaning they did not have access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. This problem is even worse in rural areas, where seniors may have poor access to healthy foods or other necessities and are less likely to utilize home-and-community-based services. I will work with our local state partners to advocate for increased funding for programs like Age Well and Meals on Wheels so that all of our neighbors live securely and with dignity.


Paid Family & Medical Leave:

We all work hard to provide for our families and contribute to our communities. That’s why it’s important to be there for some of life’s most important moments – the birth of a child, taking care of a sick family member, and recovering from illness or injury ourselves. 

Because of lobbying from corporate interests, the United States is one of only six countries with no guarantee for workers to take time off work to care for themselves, a loved one, or a newborn child. I have championed the fight for Paid Family Leave in the Vermont Legislature and will take this fight to the State House to create a national plan for federally guaranteed paid family and medical leave. That plan would ensure all workers have at least 12 weeks to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, a relative or chosen family member, or their own medical needs. The benefits must replace enough wages so this leave is truly accessible, especially for low-income workers who would not be able to afford to leave if it meant a loss in income. 


Universal Childcare:

Families everywhere are being forced to spend a significant chunk of their income on child care, with low-income families facing expenses as high as 35% of their earnings. Meanwhile, the childcare workforce, which was already stretched thin, has been decimated by the pandemic.

Fixing this will be a top priority for me in the Senate. We must fund high-quality, good-paying childcare jobs. In Montpelier, I’ll support a universal federal program that caps childcare costs for all families, makes pre-kindergarten free, and finances additional childcare providers so that every community has access to the childcare services they need.


Home & Community-Based Services:

Too many families face daunting costs for long-term care, whether for an elderly parent or a loved one with a disability. I support investments in quality home and community-based services to bring down these costs, eliminate waitlists for essential care, and provide home care workers with the pay, benefits, and rights they deserve. This workforce is disproportionately women of color and immigrants who have historically been undervalued. It’s time to recognize the critical role they play in our society.


Advancing Labor Rights and Good Jobs:

Unions and working people power our nation. Too often, Democrats have asked rank-and-file policymakers to choose between party loyalty and support for organized labor. We cannot let this continue.

I have been an outspoken advocate for labor throughout my decade in the legislature. Just last year, I stood strong in the fight to protect public pensions for educators and state employees. I was the only State Senator to stand with our educators and civil servants on the State House steps to protect the pensions they were promised. In 2015, I took on Democratic Leadership to defend educators’ rights to bargain collectively and preserve their right to strike.

It is not enough for our goal to be the creation of jobs. We need strong advocates in Montpelier who will build partnerships with labor to ensure these are good, safe jobs that pay the kind of wages that can support a family. Every worker deserves a living wage, which is why I strongly support raising the federal minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, with automatic increases to keep pace with inflation, and closing loopholes that allow employers to pay subminimum wages. 

We must also protect and strengthen workers’ rights to have a voice on the job by making it easier to form a union and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. That’s why I advanced the Vermont PRO Act and have given unions a seat at the table as Chair of Senate Economic Development, Housing & General Affairs. 

Additionally, state investments should support the employers who do right by their employees, and no state funds should be used to undermine workers’ rights or drive down local wages. State infrastructure investments should use Project Labor Agreements and comply with prevailing wage requirements, and federal procurement must meet strict Buy America standards to support jobs here at home.

Finally, we must expand access to high-quality, registered apprenticeships to give more workers opportunities to receive top-notch skills training while earning wages that can support a family.


Supporting Small Businesses:

Vermont has a long history of entrepreneurship and creativity. From our artists and craftspersons, to our technical talent and trades professions, small businesses across our state are employing Vermonters and helping our local communities thrive. But they need our help, in starting their businesses, supporting their employees, and keeping the doors open when times get tough.

I believe that support for small businesses must begin by expanding who has access to financial capital. We must expand loan programs through the Small Business Administration and lower interest rates on loans for small businesses owned and operated by communities that have historically been left out of investment, including people of color, women, and Indigenous populations. 

As a former advisory council member of Main Street Alliance of Vermont, the daughter of a small business owner, and a small business owner myself, I also know that supporting our small businesses means leveling the playing field for investments in their employees. Vermont deserves a federal partner who will continue the work of passing universal paid family leave and childcare programs, investing in workforce development, canceling student loan debt, and ensuring all workers are well-compensated for their labor.


Funding Public Education:

A strong education system is the foundation for a strong democracy and a strong Vermont. In Vermont, we want our public schools to inspire imagination, cultivate critical thinking, and ensure our children can live fulfilling lives.

As a State Senator, I have worked closely with families and teachers from across our state to ensure our public schools are well-equipped to meet the needs of every child. We must assure that free, high-quality education is universal — from pre-K through college.

Over the last few decades, some political leaders have chosen to fuel divisions and divert funding away from our schools. We must reinvest in public schools so that every school, teacher, and student has the resources they need to receive a quality education. In addition, we must fund universal Pre-K and other early childhood programs to give our children the support they need from an early age – including mental-health resources for students, more school counselors, and after-school programs. 

Our teachers dedicate themselves to our children and our communities. We can value this dedication with more adequate compensation and continued investments to recruit and retain these essential workers. This includes supporting and training teachers in using a culturally-inclusive curriculum. 

For students who choose to pursue higher education, the burden of student loan debt has grown dramatically. Today, 43 million people have more than $1.7 trillion in student debt. This is untenable. The first step we must take is to cancel this debt and remove this economic squeeze on folks who simply sought out education to keep up with today’s economy. Then, we must go further by fixing the system that created this debt in the first place. By making all public college tuition-free, by expanding existing programs like Pell Grants and Work-Study, and by reinvesting in our public higher-education system and trade schools, we can work towards guaranteeing debt-free higher education for all.


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