Rutland Herald, November 4, 2007: Vermont council turns spotlight on child poverty

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BENNINGTON The Vermont Child Poverty Council will be hosting public forums over the next few weeks as they begin work on an ambitious goal: Reducing child poverty in the state by half in the next 10 years.

State Sen. Doug Racine, D-Chittenden, who serves as co-chair of the council with Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, said that the group hopes to get a true picture of poverty in Vermont through the meetings.

“We are charged with looking at the causes of child poverty, the nature of poverty in Vermont and develop a solution. These forums will get us out of Montpelier so we hear about what’s going on in the four corners of Vermont,” he said.

The council, created during the last Legislative session, has heard from educators, local nonprofits, community action agencies and volunteers at homeless shelters and food pantries at their meetings which began in October. Racine said the sessions have provided insight into the needs of local communities.

Common themes have emerged, Racine said, such as the high cost of housing, the escalating cost of living and stagnant wages.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people who thought they were in the middle class but because of a divorce, an injury, an illness, a child with special needs, they find themselves sliding into poverty. One thing we heard people say again and again was, ‘I never thought I would be here,'” Racine said.

Lynne Klamm, field services specialist for the Vermont Agency of Human Services in Rutland County, said it’s clear that the low-income population is growing and would continue to do so with several large employers in Rutland leaving the city.

“Folks are finding it harder and harder to maintain their lives. All of that is going to trickle down to our kids,” she said.

Children in poverty face special difficulties because their economic background could make it difficult to succeed later in life. In standardized testing, like the federally mandated No Child Left Behind measure of adequate yearly progress, poor children tend to test lower than their peers.

“If these children start off behind because they don’t have some pre-school education whether it’s from mom or a more formal program, it makes things harder. If you’re testing behind in first or second grade, you’re more likely to test behind in high school, you’re more likely to drop out, you’re more likely to struggle later in life,” Racine said.

Charles Gingo, field director for the Vermont Agency of Human Services in Bennington County, said many Vermonters may not see how many children in their own neighborhoods are living in poverty.

“By some standards, it’s right in the 15 (percent) to 20 percent range, the number of kids in poverty. To me, that’s a stunning number. That’s a staggering thing and it’s throughout (Bennington) County,” he said.

Racine said the council members are recording the suggestions and comments they receive and will use them to formulate recommendations they will present to the Legislature in the next session.

“My No. 1 goal right now is to get it out there, getting a conversation going. Once you have people saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ and starting to understand, maybe you get the political will to do something, to focus attention and make the fight against child poverty a priority,” Racine said.

On Monday, the council will meet from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Molly Stark Elementary School cafeteria in Bennington. The forum in Orange County forum will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Randolph Elementary School cafeteria. The Addison County forum is 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Mary Hogan School media center in Middlebury.

The Rutland County forum is scheduled for Nov. 19 at the Rutland Middle School cafeteria from 5 to 8 p.m.

All of Vermont’s 14 counties will have hosted a meeting by the end of this month.

For additional information or for special accommodations to attend a forum, call the Legislative Council at 828-2231.

Contact Patrick McArdle at

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