Dear Constituents: We are taking a lot of early stage testimony in my committee, while major developments in the House are moving forward, picking up where they left off last May.

 

In House Ag and Forestry: 

Phosphorus (P), the cause of cyanobacteria outbreaks in our surface waters, threads through much of our committee’s time.

The Department of Environmental Conservation reported about investments in Vermont’s clean water and resulting improvements, the most economical being on agricultural practices and landscapes. See the report here:https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House%20Agriculture/Clean%20Water%20Initiative/W~Emily%20Bird~Presentation%20Slideshow~1-17-2020.pdf

UVM’s Gund Institute is fostering early research about extracting or neutralizing P in water &/or soil.

A veteran dairy nutritionist shared how the last decade has seen increased cow health and decreased P in both feed and manure. Technology and research have allowed for precision feeding, which saves money and gives cows exactly what they need while prioritizing feed digestibility. A typical grain mix has 6 or 7 grain varieties that are combined to targeted levels of protein, sugar, calcium, P, etc. Over 70 components in feed are tested, including P, which has led to changes such as replacing canola with soy to reduce P levels. The National Research Council publishes nutritional recommendations for each livestock animal and feed companies manufacture to theses specifications. Farmers sample manure to check P levels and adjust diets accordingly. Today, the typical dairy cow diet is 75% forage and 25% grain.

Pending on the Floor: Deep breath. I committed to study all sides of issues, regardless of ideology. My job is to verify sources for accuracy and study information from all angles, especially as it relates to my communities.

Minimum Wage: Any adult working full-time should be able to “make it”. I hold that the fixes for the underlying causes of our shrinking real wages must be made at the federal level through tax reforms (income, corporate and SS), safety net program overhauls (to accurately update poverty income levels and eliminate benefit cliffs), public investment in higher education/training while eliminating graft, and health insurance/care reform that removes profiteering. Some economically powerful states could do much of this &/or raise the minimum wage with less fallout than Vermont, an economic-featherweight. Last year, I learned the sobering reality that Vermont’s entire budget is around $6 billion with 1/3 being federal dollars, largely Medicaid reimbursements.

Unfortunately, large, publicly traded, or franchise businesses exist that handsomely reward owners, managers, or investors by abusing employee wages and benefits. Increasing minimum wage could help to right that wrong. Many small, local businesses eke by despite national and global shifts and trade deals, automation, and continued consolidation that allow a few large businesses to price-fix, disenfranchise, or undercut the small businesses competing with them or operating downstream on the supply chain. Small businesses in rural communities commonly pay workers what they can while still maintaining business solvency and will be further stressed by a mandated wage increase. We will lose a diversity of small, local businesses, and see others cut benefits or lay-off employees in order to keep the lights on. Some of these businesses are anchors in their community, like general stores, and their closure will impact entire towns. Rural areas, with proportionally more small businesses and elderly residents, will be adversely impacted.

Higher wages don’t necessarily mean bigger profits for local businesses. Sadly, unlike 40 years ago, most people spend very little money at truly local businesses. Groceries, and gas may be bought locally, but from a franchise that wires the profits out of state or to the absentee owner’s account every night. Local, direct-service or artisan businesses may realize some gains if it balances out their increased wage expenses. Amazon, Exxon, and Wal-Mart will definitely benefit.

Local eldercare facilities in my area have warned that they will be hard hit, maybe driven under, whether privately funded or primarily supported by Medicaid. In 14 years, they have only seen about a $5/day/resident increase in Medicaid funding. I support increasing Medicaid payments, which would allow many facilities to stay afloat and increase both staffing and pay rates so they can attract and retain more quality employees. If we lose these facilities, we cannot keep our elders local, where loved ones can visit frequently.

If you would like to read the Joint Fiscal Office Report: Estimating State Costs from Raising the Minimum Wage for Healthcare Workers Paid through Medicaid, please see:https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/WorkGroups/House%20General/Bills/S.23/Written%20Testimony/S.23~Joyce%20Manchester~Issue%20Brief%20-%20Minimum%20Wage%20Cost%20Estimate%20and%20Data%20Collection~1-9-2020.pdf

This issue is very complex and has no silver bullet. 

 

If you are reading this hard-copy and want live links to the reports, visit www.charenfegard.com or my Legislative Facebook page.

 

Sincerely,

Rep Charen Fegard

Berkshire-Franklin-Highgate-Richford

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