Put People First: VIT Budget Hearings!

On February 13, 2012 over 150 people with the Put People First Campaign turned out to 14 VT interactive television sites to speak at the state budget hearings for the Joint Legislative Appropriations Committees. People testified sharing their personal stories. Their message to legislators was that we're here together to do the hard work of transforming the way our state creates its budget to build a system that puts people first and meets all our human rights.

Read the preliminary report on the Vermont's economic crisis, based on hundreds of surveys of Vermonters all across the state: http://www.workerscenter.org/sites/default/files/human_rights_2011.pdf

Check out the People's Budget Campaign proposed legislation: http://www.workerscenter.org/peoples-budget-legislation

Listen to the radio report from Put People First! Radio:

Click below to watch members of the Put People First Campaign testifying at the Senate budget hearings

Read just a few of the testimonies from Put People First: People's Budget Campaign

My name is Reed Webster and I'm from Bellows Falls. I have been a volunteer for the VWC for a few years and am a member of the Put People First campaign. I have testified a few times before, once on how the current healthcare system is failing me as well as many people I know. I've also testified how many people I know are staying in jobs just to have healthcare benefits, jobs that would otherwise be available for the many who are unemployed. But there are many other areas other than healthcare where the current system is failing us...housing, higher education, childcare and hunger are just a few examples.

Since the 1970's, there has been a steady progression of income disparity in Vermont. The income of the wealthiest has increased dramatically while the working poor and middle class has basically seen no gain. I guess this throws out the window both the 'trickle down theory' as well as the 'give the wealthy tax breaks to create jobs theory'.

I'm proud of the actions our legislators took last year, voting for a healthcare system that will benefit all Vermonters, a system that will provide dignity for all who need it.

The People's Budget is about dignity. The dignity to have a good paying job, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, affordable education, a clean environment, healthy food and a safety net for those who need it. I'm a 34 year public works employee and my work is to make the roads safe for all who use them. Tropical storm Irene threw a challenge at us last year and workers and volunteers from all over the state met that challenge. We are now challenging you, our legislators, to give us a budget that meets the needs of the people so we can all live our lives in the dignity we deserve.

Vermonters have shown that they are Vermont Strong, I hope the legislators can show that they are Vermont Strong too.

Hi my name is Donna French. I am member of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I lived at Weston’s Mobile Home Park and lost my home in the flood. We had a mortgage of less than $24,000 when we lost our home. What we found in the wake of the storm was that the situation for affordable housing in Central Vermont was pretty dismal. We were lucky to find another home, but it is definitely not an affordable option. Now we have a mortgage of over $100,000 that is going to take the rest of our lives to pay back. Since the flood we have met so many people who struggle with finding a place where they can afford to live. Nobody should have to worry that they won’t have a place to call home. Housing is a Human Right! We need a People’s Budget that puts the needs of our communities- including safe and affordable housing- first.

Hi my name is Glenn French. I am member of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. After serving in the U.S. Navy I worked for the city of Montpelier for 29 and a half years. My family and I are trying to survive on my pension and social security. The cost of fundamentail needs like food, fuel, housing, and healthcare keeps going up but my fixed income is still just that- fixed. This means we are under a lot of stress and I can barely sleep because I am worried about my family. When there is not enough I have to make choices between things like fuel and food. When we are making the budget, why do we ask the working people to give things up, instead of the people who have enough? Vermonters are no longer fooled by the myth that we have to wait for benefits to “trickle down” from the wealthier people. Our government has an obligation to ensure our human rights, and thats why I am here to call for People’s Budget.


Hi my name is Sandy Gaffney. I am a me’mber of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I used to live at Westons Mobile Home Park until my home was completely destroyed by the flooding from Irene in August. It was impossible to find an affordable place to live, so I am not renting a 2 room- not two bedroom- 2 room apartment. In rent alone this costs significantly more than I used to pay for the mobile home that I owned, but the part that I am really struggling wih is the cost of heat. I just got my propane bill and it was $288 for propane for just one month. I live on Social Security and a part time job so that heating cost is completely unaffordable. If this is what it costs me for my little 2 room apartment, I can’t even imagine how single parents with multi-bedroom places are keeping warm this winter- and I know that some of them are making unacceptable choices- like between heat and food or heat and medecine. This is what the people of Vermont are dealing with and we will no longer accept the idea that we have to reduce tax contributions from the wealthy while people are struggling mre than ever. Our government should be making a people’s budget where resources follow needs, and not the other way around. We have Human Rights and it is time they were respected.

Hi, my name is Melissa Bourque. I live in St. Johnsbury and I am a member of the People’s Budget Campaign. I am a mother of two kids with a third on the way and I came here to testify for a People’s Budget because I want a better world for my kids. Not too long ago, Killian, my son who is 8 years old called me from his father’s house because he couldn’t sleep. I asked him what was keeping him up and he told me that he couldn’t sleep because he was worried that when he grew up he wouldn’t have enough money for a place to live and food to eat and medicine he needed. He is EIGHT YEARS OLD. That night I assured him that he doesn’t have to worry about that and that he should go back to sleep. I am here tonight because I need to make good on that promise to my kid that he is going to grow up to a world where people don’t go without those fundamental needs. The fact is that right now, I can’t really be sure of that at all. The state budget must reflect the values of our communities. None of us wishes to allow hunger, homelessness, or poverty in our community, so the State budget must seek to eliminate these injustices. We need a budget that Puts People First.

Johnson VIT

My name is John Ashford, I live in Morrisville now since my son and myself lost our home at Westons mobile home park on August 28th after Hurricane Irene. We lost everything. What we found was that finding an affordable place to live was pretty much impossible. We would go fill out application after application and every time they would say that they put us at the top of the list, but nothing ever came through. In just one day I got nine different letters saying that there were no vacancies. We felt like we had no choices and had to take anything we could get. This is when we’ve come out of a disaster and they’re putting us at the top of the list. What does that means is happening to everyone who has been struggling before a natural disaster? How long are they stuck on these lists?! The state of affordable housing in Vermont is totally unacceptable. There is absolutely not enough and its very upsetting. Everybody has a right to have a good place to live.
When you review this budget, please ask yourself- is this budget matching the values of our communities and ensuring our human rights- including the rights to housing, healthcare, education, food, and all of our fundamental needs.
Also- we learned from the flood that regular people don’t have a say in the decisions about where the money goes. There were millions of dollars raised for flood relief, but survivors of the flood have not been a part of the process of deciding where that money goes or even getting the information about it. This is why we need a budget process that is more transparent and participatory and accountable to the people. We need a People’s Budget.


Hi, My name is Jessica Gray. I live in St. Johnsbury and I am a member of Vermont Parents United and the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I am here because one of the biggest challenges for my family and I is affordable housing. Even working two jobs, it can be impossible to make ends meet. I have three kids and live in a 2 bedroom apartment because that is all I can afford. We have no yard, no place for my kids to play. We live on the 3rd floor and there are no fire escapes in the whole building. My landlord tells me its okay because we live close enough to the fire department. Would that be good enough for you and your kids?
On top of making rent every month for this unsafe apartment with no yard, it is always a struggle to pay my utilities. I have to pick which bill I am going to pay each month- lights, cable, or heat. I know that I am not the only one in this situation. No Mom should have to worry that her kids are not safe because the only apartment she can afford doesn’t have a fire escape or worry that the lights are going to be shut off because she decided to pay for heat that month. I am coming together with others in my community to stand up for People’s Budget. Safe, affordable housing is a human right and the purpose of our government and our state budget is to ensure that right, along with our other human rights to healthcare, livable wage jobs, education, transportation, and healthy food. Thank You.

Hi, My name is Travis Baraw. I live in Newport and I am member of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. For me it feels like, everything is a struggle in Orleans County. I have a daughter, Sydney, and another kid on the way. Its pretty impossible to find a job in Newport. We depend on food stamps to make sure our kids have enough to eat, but even the maximum is barely enough- and doesn’t feel like enough to give my kids the healthy food that they deserve. Then I also worry that if I do find a job, I will lose what help I have and be even worse off. Without funding the services and benefits that families need, we are making it impossible to get ahead. The budget should be about meeting all of these needs and making sure that Vermont families can be healthy and successful. We need to have a budget that Puts People First.


My name is Elizabeth Jesdale and I am a member of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I’ve always thought that I was middle class and pretty far away from poverty. Last year I had some medical issues that pushed me to realize just how close to the edge I actually was. I have worked in the same place for 11 year and we have a Union and health benefits- but still last year our deductible was doubled, our copay was doubled, and everything went up. When I actually needed to use that health coverage I found that things I was under the impression would be a $20 copay resulted in bills for thousands of dollars. Thank god this was an acute situation because it cleaned out my savings. If it was chronic and I had to keep paying these kind of medical bills, I’d go bankrupt. Now I am realizing that I’m pretty much just one more disaster away being homeless. If my boiler goes, if my roof leaks, if I get sick again, that would be it- I’d lose my home. The craziest part is that, like I said, I work at a good, long-term, union job with health insurance, and I’m not supporting a whole family. Getting sick and then being pushed to financial ruin is an unacceptable fate. We need to fully finance our universal, equitable healthcare system in Vermont and make it a part of a People’s Budget that ensures that the fundamental needs of all Vermonters are met. We can’t have healthcare without housing, good jobs, education, or other essential public services. We are truly facing a human rights crisis in Vermont and we need our elected officials to take bold action to respect, protect and fulfill our rights.


My name is Geraldine Burke. I am
here to give testimony illustrating why we must have a People’s Budget to meet basic human needs for Vermonters.

Last year I was assisting low-income Vermonters, those 55 and over to be re-trained and get back into the work force. My job was funded by a government grant and on May 13, 2011, I was laid off, because there were significant cuts to the grant. I was out of a job, but more importantly the program participants lost an advocate and as a result, people who I had arranged to meet employers the following week did not have me to support them, and none of them obtained unsubsidized employment! These people want to work and the benefits of working provides a circle of other benefits, that of food, housing, healthcare, and self esteem. Our state government has a responsibility to address ALL of these needs. A People’s Budget – open to participation from The People would address these concerns and meet every Vermonter’s human rights! Vermont is a special place to live, but to keep it viable for all; we call upon the governor and legislators to reveal the generosity of the very wealthy in Vermont to keep it a special place for all! Thank you for listening and taking the first step towards Putting People First.

Check out the full slideshow of pictures:

Hi my name is Madeline Winfield, I live in St. Johnsbury. I am member of the People’s Budget campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I wanted to come here tonight because I think that we need to look at the budget from the point of view of what people are really needing, not from the perspective of how little you can spend. There are a lot of needs that are not being met. For example, in St. Johnsbury the water is no good to drink. This means that people have to rely on expensive bottled water for something as fundamental as decent drinking water and then what happens if you can’t afford it? Another example is transportation. If you can’t afford a car in St. Johnsbury, getting around the Northeast Kingdom is almost impossible. I am 66 and can’t even afford the hearing aids that I need to live a dignified life. Water, Transportation, Healthcare- these things are our human rights and they are public goods. We need to invest in them because we all need and depend on them. Our budget should ensure that the fundamental needs of every Vermonter are satisfied and funding should follow those needs. I am calling on you to pass a People’s Budget that puts our communities first. Thank You.

Hello, my name is Joan Eckley and I am from West Haven. I am a volunteer with the Put people First Campaign at the Workers Center. I am speaking tonight about the necessity of formulating a state budget that is based on the actual needs of Vermonters: a people’s budget. We are advocating for a People’s budget.
Personally I’ve had health problems since early childhood and planned my life around this by working for State government so I could earn a pension and life time health care. I am disabled with a spinal cord injury that is best treated by alternative and regular medical care. I am lucky that I can afford both kinds of care but many others with my condition have to suffer needlessly because they can’t afford the alternative care that allows me physical freedom. We all need affordable health care not just insurance for all as well as decent housing and jobs as well as healthy food. The recent and projected cuts to public services are turning into a human rights crisis for many of our citizens. There is much waste in the budget: federally funded jobs are not filled to reduce state employment rolls, matching funds for rail have not been used, contract employees cost to the state in poorer services provided. The Department of Corrections contracts out its physical and mental health services as well as shipping prisoners out of state to places where they learn to be better criminals all at an immense societal cost. Remember Ashley Ellis who died in jail for lack of a 5 cent potassium pill? Our government is supposed to be of, by and for the people and our budgets should conform to this as well as to the human rights principles of universality, transparency, accountability, participation and equity. As for equity, our wealthiest citizens need to pay the same rates on their income as we wage earners. This money would go a long way towards helping with a budget based on people’s needs and the moral principles that all religions are based upon.

Hi my name is Corey Decker. I live here in Johnson and am a member of the People’s Budget campaign of the Vermont Workers Center. I originally got involved as part of the Healthcare is a Human Right campaign because I work at Fletcher Allen and see patients every day who are struggling to afford the healthcare that they need- or going without it because paying for it is out of reach. I am here to ask you for a People’s Budget that meets all of the needs of our communities. I am so proud that Vermont is going to be the first state to recognize the Human Right to Healthcare and create a universal, equitable, publicly financed healthcare system. But I also realize that a Universal healthcare system is only one piece of the puzzle. The barriers that patients are facing to getting the care that they need are connected to the lack of livable wages in Vermont. They are connected to the lack of funding for public transportation, affordable housing, and healthy food. We are done believing that there is just not enough money for available to fund all of these things. We can, and must, have a state budget that fully funds all of the needs of our communities and we need leaders who are not scared to raise the revenue necessary to do so. We need to Put People First.

Hi my name is Martha Braithwaite, I live in Glover. I am a member of the People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. Living in Orleans County I see the human rights crisis on a daily basis. We have some of the highest poverty levels in the whole state and people in our communities are struggling every single day to meet their needs for jobs, housing, health care, access to childcare, and transportation. We held a community needs meeting in Newport and heard story after story of people struggling to get by from Early Educators who are thinking about closing their doors because they can’t pay their bills, to parents who can’t afford healthy food for their kids, to folks with disabilities who are scared of seeing cuts to the services that they depend on year after year. Seeing this kind of suffering is absolutely unacceptable and we know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Vermont should not be a state that accepts poverty and destroys its public services and infrastructure simply because we’ve not willing to share the resources we have. We should not be a state that chooses to neglect some human needs in order to pay for addressing others simply because we’re refusing to adequately fund our budget. I urge you to not pit those of us who need healthcare against those of us who need housing. Our state must ensure the well-being of all of its people, and we have the resources to do so, as long as we spend and raise money in an equitable and sustainable way and stop wasting it on things that aren’t related to our needs.

My Name is Ivan Smith and I live in Fair Haven. I am a member of put People First - The People’s Budget Campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center. I speak to you as a person who returned to this great state four years ago to care for an aging and mentally disabled parent who has yet to be able sell her home so she could move to setting better suited for her present and future needs. Because of my responsibilities, finding employment even on a part time basis has been problematic, due to the general lack of opportunities where I live, and the availability of suitable public transportation. I’m lucky to have basic healthcare, I don’t go hungry. And long as the house doesn’t sell I have shelter. I am on second year of a three year deferment for my student loans from college. That does not give me much to work with for the future. As a person in my situation there are many deficits that need to be filled other than fiscal; things that exist under the radar of governmental policy, services and standards.
Will affordable health care exist when I do start working? Will I have access to affordable housing and transportation needed to live with dignity? Will I make enough to pay off my student loan debts before I retire?
This is not about begging for charity, or putting it down. This is about making democracy matter to all, regardless of where anyone sits economically. To transform this bleak reality we need a budget based on the human rights principles of: universality, equity, accountability, transparency and participation
Vermont could lead the way by having a budget that: directly addresses fundamental human needs and is accountable in doing so. By having each budget item say how it meets human rights standards by stating its intended outcome and how that outcome will be measured, with the people themselves taking part in proposing said outcomes. By developing indicators that assess Vermonters’ needs in pursuant to tracking how well Vermont is doing in increasing our general well being and realizing our human rights. By allowing recourses to follow needs: by deciding how much money those needs will cost, and then raising the money for it, with a justice based tax policy, giving the people’s needs the same priority we’ve been giving the corporate pseudo-persons and the wealthy for far too long. Thank you.

My name is Lee Russ and I’m a member of the People’s Budget campaign of the Vermont Workers’ Center.

I certainly agree with the many people who have talked today about healthcare, food, housing, education, and other issues that are essential public services. They certainly are essential, but I want to make sure that our legislators don’t forget how difficult it is for many people in our state to simply get from one place to another.

With the decline of commercial transportation options, getting from one place to another—especially from one town to another--is often an incredibly complicated and time-consuming effort for Vermonters who don’t have access to a car.

Travel between towns is sometimes impossible, and, at best, requires navigating a patchwork system with multiple transfers that greatly adds to the time required to make the trip. Try getting from Bennington to Burlington or Montpelier by public transportation.

This adds to the isolation of an already-vulnerable population, and limits where these people can live, where they can work, and where they can go for health care. It also continues to divide the various regions of our state.

Here in Bennington, the Green Mountain Express bus system does its best to provide transportation to the most common local destinations like shopping and medical facilities, but it is very difficult to find transportation to areas outside the main local corridors.

A coordinated network of reliable transportation would do much to improve the lives of Vermonters who find it increasingly hard to afford a car. The benefit of such a system would more than justify the cost involved in creating it.

I’m here to ask that the legislature make a good-faith assessment of the fundamental transportation needs of our state’s residents before passing the state budget.