MONTPELIER -- A proposal to triple the amount of money that Vermont is devoting to emergency housing assistance drew concern from a key lawmaker Monday.
The Department for Children and Families is asking for $3.2 million for such assistance, in addition to the $1.5 million that was earmarked in the budget last spring. Much of the money goes toward providing temporary shelter for homeless individuals and families in motels.
The head of the Vermont House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Martha Heath, attributed the increase in housing expenses to the state's rising homelessness. She said Vermont needs to find more systematic approaches than having people stay in motels.
"It doesn't make sense to me on a purely logical basis that we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, yet we continue to see these growing numbers of people who need housing," she said as the Appropriations Committee prepared to meet to respond to unforeseen needs in the middle of the fiscal year.
Overall, though, Heath said the issues her committee began reviewing Monday would be easier to resolve than those in the budget for the next fiscal year.
That year begins July 1, and early estimates indicate the state will collect about $70 million less in revenues than it will have in expenses. Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to make his spending recommendations Jan. 15.
On Monday, the subjects were midyear budget changes for the current fiscal year.
Among midyear changes proposed:
--The administration is seeking a $7.1 million boost in funding for general Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income residents, a change attributed to growing caseloads.
--The Department of Corrections needs $1.5 million more to pay for moving inmates to out-of-state prisons to make room for pre-trial detainees. Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito said the change reflected an underestimate in last year's budget process more than a growth in demand for beds.
--The state is saving an estimated $6.8 million on health premiums for state workers. The workers, who pay 20 percent of their health care costs, also are enjoying a break for four two-week pay periods from having to pay their share. Jim Reardon, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, attributed the savings to lower-than-anticipated health claims by state employees.