BERKSHIRE – Republican Lisa Hango is running for election to represent Franklin County’s four northernmost communities – Berkshire, Franklin, Highgate and Richford – in the Vermont House of Representatives.
Hango was appointed to the seat two years ago, after Josh Aldrich who won election to the two-district seat, along with Democrat Charen Fegard, stepped down before being sworn in.
In addition to serving in the House, Hango is a longtime school board member who previously served on Berkshire’s school board and now represents the town on the consolidated Northern Mountain Valley school board.
COVID-19 exposed the cracks in Vermont’s social safety net. What else, if anything, should the legislature be doing to address the impact of the pandemic on low-income Vermonters?
Hango initially answered by noting how the pandemic underscored a need for housing Vermont’s homeless population, many of whom prior to spring lived in environments where risks could be high for an easily spread outbreak of COVID-19.
It was one of the areas Hango, who serves on the house’s Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs, said the legislature worked well to address immediately with recent pandemic relief legislation and programming finding temporary homes for approximately 2,000 Vermonters.
“That was something I think we did a very good job with in the legislature,” Hango said.
Hango also shared concerns she had for gaps in broadband access that were exacerbated as COVID-19 forced schooling and work to be done remotely, and concerns related to a well-documented rise in food insecurity stemming from the pandemic and related state orders closing much of public life in Vermont.
All three, she said, would probably come before the legislature again.
“There will be work that needs to be done on affordable housing situations,” Hango said. “Certainly, access to broadband – we have not solved that issue – nor have we really I think uncovered the whole problem of food insecurity.”
What should the state do to address the need for quality, affordable child care?
A response to Vermont’s well-known shortage of child care providers, Hango said, could come in freeing up some of the restrictions placed on in-home child care programs and potentially making those programs economically unviable.
Hango said her answer came from speaking with constituents who had considered opening their own, in-home child care programs or had bowed out of the industry all together due to higher costs of compliance with state regulations.
“The startup costs, because of the regulations, were just so astronomical that they couldn’t start or couldn’t stay in the business any longer because they couldn’t comply with those regulations,” she said.
Hango also said she felt those shouldn’t replace the larger child care centers dominating much of the current child care industry. “Both of those options, I think, are really great options, and families, I believe, need to have that choice for what better fits their lifestyle,” Hango said.
Both, she said, should still be regulated “so everyone’s children have a safe place to go.”
A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?
Hango said it was too soon to know exactly where the state’s budget would be once the legislature reconvenes next year, but suggested there would be “tough questions” Vermont’s state government would be needing to ask as it struggles with projected financial shortfalls.
“The legislature and every agency need to scrutinize their costs and what they support,” Hango said. “There are going to be tough questions asked about every program… and we need to keep an open mind about what Vermont needs and what Vermonters need.”
She said, however, the legislature should be careful to avoid cutting “anything that really affects vulnerable Vermonters who can’t help themselves,” like programs addressing food insecurity or supporting people with disabilities and senior citizens.
What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?
Education funding in Vermont, in Hango’s words, is “complicated and nuanced,” and potentially worth revisiting amid the stress placed on the Education Fund by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Schools’ funding is based in part on a ratio comparing housing prices and values, and accounts for variables like income sensitivity and student counts. Those data points inform the taxes ultimately collected to partially support Vermont’s Education Fund, which in turn funds each individual public school.
Hango, who admitted she didn’t have all the answers on challenges facing education funding, said there were legislators in Montpelier currently working around the issue with answers that could be worth exploring.
“It’s extremely complex,” Hango said, “but I’ve heard people express ideas that make sense on the surface.”
The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about the use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?
“I believe the bills passed by the legislature were a good start,” Hango said. She added, however, she believed there was “more work to be done.”
There were several groups exploring possible steps the legislature could take, but Hango said she felt lawmakers should “slow down” as they consider those next steps and hear from some of those groups currently exploring policing and race issues in Vermont.
“I feel like a slow and steady approach is needed,” Hango said.
Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. Vermont is also starting to see the impacts of climate change firsthand, with shorter winters, harsher stormed and so-called “climigration.” What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?
“I acknowledge the climate is changing,” Hango answered immediately, but said she felt some of the steps taken by Vermont’s lawmakers – specifically the Global Warming Solutions Act, which Hango voted against twice – could be “potentially detrimental to our economy, which is already fragile.”
The bill, which was ultimately passed when Vermont’s legislature overrode Gov. Phil Scott’s veto, codifies certain carbon reduction goals as mandates and allows for the state to be sued in court should Vermont fail meeting those targets.
“The focus now should be keeping Vermonters employed and engaged in their lives, and safe and healthy from the effects of flu and COVID-19,” Hango said. “Focusing on meeting mandated, arbitrary benchmarks will take away from economic recovery efforts and do further harm to Vermont businesses.”
Alongside “various little steps” taken by lawmakers to support weatherization programs and alternative modes of transportation, and steps taken to regulate vehicle emissions, Hango said she felt the Global Warming Solutions Act’s passage was “enough for me at this point.”
How can the state help create a secure future for its agricultural sector?
Agriculture, Hango said, “is clearly a priority here in Vermont.”
While offering that the state was encouraging diversification as an answer to ongoing challenges within Vermont’s dairy industry, Hango also said she felt the legislature had “short-changed” farmers this year as it allocated pandemic relief funds.
“I’m grateful for any dollars they could get, but we could’ve used more for our agricultural sector for sure, particularly to encourage our farmers and producers to diversify and market their products,” Hango said. “Vermont is a very special brand and I think we have a lot to offer the world.”