[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial. This is an issue that should be of great concern to all journalists.]
The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday was defending its decision to subpoena phone records from Associated Press bureaus and reporters. Officials, according to CNN reports, claim the requests were limited and necessary to investigate a leak of classified information.
The Associated Press, along with journalists around the world, aren’t buying it. Associated Press officials are calling it a massive and unprecedented intrusion into its gathering of news.
The scope of the subpoenas is what gives David Schultz, a lawyer for AP, pause.
"It was a very large number of records that were obtained, including phone records from Hartford, New York, Washington, from the U.S. House of Representatives and elsewhere where AP has bureaus. It included home and cellphone numbers from a number of AP reporters," Schulz told NPR.
And while it's not clear what the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is investigating, the AP believes the “fishing” may be connected to a story from May 2012 that described the CIA stopping a terrorist plot to plant a bomb on an airplane with a sophisticated new kind of device, according to the NPR report.
"This sort of activity really amounts to massive government monitoring of the actions of the press, and it really puts a dagger at the heart of AP's news-gathering activities," Schulz said.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin on Monday said that the subpoenas were likely legal, but go further than previous administrations in pursuing private information of journalists.
Typically, Justice Department rules state that the attorney general needs to sign off on subpoenas to reporters. Prosecutors must demonstrate that every effort was made to get the information in other ways before even turning to the press. And those rules also say prosecutors need to notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.
"(These rules) were put into place after Watergate, when everyone was very alarmed by the abuses and excesses of the Nixon Justice Department in subpoenaing reporters and trying to get information about their sources and activities," Schultz told NPR.
As NPR’s report on Tuesday points out, the Justice Department's inspector general three years ago found evidence that the FBI was getting phone records from The Washington Post and The New York Times in the Bush administration without following those guidelines.
"In a continuing witch hunt for leaks and whistleblowers, the Obama administration has chosen to trample the First Amendment,” Associated Press Media Editors Association President Brad Dennison stated in a release. "Freely tossing around the word ‘transparency,’ as this administration is prone to do, does not make it so. This action clearly demonstrates that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. have absolutely no interest in an open and transparent government.”
That the part that troubles many of us in the news industry, and should be troubling to every citizen who looks to the Reformer or any other newspaper, broadcast or Internet-based news source.
"There is no conceivable explanation for this overly broad request,” Dennison said. "So ultimately, the entire news industry must view the administration’s actions as blatant intimidation and a not-so-veiled effort to let news organizations know their records also can be seized with impunity.”
Even Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who normally defends the Obama White House, said he's troubled and wants an explanation.
The Reformer editorial board joins the APME in calling for “discussion and implementation of a federal shield law, which would protect journalists from having to reveal their sources and documents, ensuring that journalists and confidential informants would not be silenced by the threat of federal prosecution or subpoena. Under a proposed shield law, the federal government must prove to a judge that the information sought outweighs a journalist’s need to maintain confidential information.”
We also call for the government to halt these blatant abuses of power, under the guise of vague national security concerns, and ask the Obama administration to come clean on how aware it was of this latest investigation.
Because, while White House spokesman Jay Carner may use CNN to proclaim that "The president is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and to facilitate a free flow of information,” you know what they say: Actions speak louder than words.
Well this latest round of subpoenas speaks volumes.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
"I feel very good about where we ended up in terms of empowering local and regional planning to determine their own futures in the new energy landscape."
That’s how Dummerston’s Tom Bodett summed up a set of recommendations put forth in a final report by the Vermont Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission.
With state officials pushing to have the Green Mountain State seeing 90 percent of its energy generated by renewable sources by 2050, there’s been a marked up-tick in project proposals all around the state. And, in many of those cases, the people most affected by those projects -- typically those living in the towns where they would be located -- have grown more and more concerned that the way the state deals with reviewing and ultimately approving projects is antiquated and doesn’t take their input into account.
Two Windham County towns find themselves currently in the midst of just such a debate -- meteorological test towers, usually a precursor for wind farm development -- were approved by the Public Service Board for a site in Windham, even though town officials were against the project (the Town Plan prohibits wind farm development). Neighbors in Grafton, who would also be affected by any future large-scale development, also began debating the issue.
The commission came up with five main recommendations to address these types of concerns:
-- An increased emphasis on planning at the state, regional and municipal levels so that state energy-siting decisions are consistent with regional plans.
-- Adoption of a "tiered" approach to reviewing energy projects by more quickly and efficiently addressing smaller or less-controversial proposals "while focusing the bulk of PSB time and effort on the evaluation of larger or more complex projects."
-- Increased opportunities for public participation.
-- Implementation of procedural changes to increase transparency, efficiency and predictability in the siting process.
-- Updates to environmental, health and other protection guidelines.
We think each one of those recommendations would go a long way toward fostering an increased sense of control at the local level, when it comes to these types of projects. After all, as we stated in an editorial on the Windham controversy last year, many problems and concerns would be alleviated if developments better involved residents and town officials in the planning stages.
"Overall, I can say with some confidence that we have addressed the issues we consistently heard from the public and the industry developers alike -- that our current process is too complicated, too expensive, too slow, not transparent enough and not sensitive enough to cultural and environmental considerations," Bodett told the Reformer following the release of the report.
"I like the report’s emphasis on planning at the regional level to ensure that projects are sited in the best places," Brattleboro town energy coordinator and Brattleboro Climate Protection executive director, Paul Cameron, told the Reformer, adding that he supports the siting commission’s "encouragement of community-led projects and increasing opportunities for public participation."
For the moment, these may just be recommendations. But we urge state officials and the governor’s office to begin reviewing the report. For the 2050 goal to become a reality, new projects will need to be envisioned and created, and the process will go much smoother with the support of Vermonters. Support through communication sounds a lot better than reports of project after project getting bogged down in contention and opposition.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
When NASA closed the books on its 30-year Space Shuttle program in 2011, the Reformer stated in an editorial that year, millions of people who grew up in age of space exploration and watched Star Trek with dreamy-eyed anticipation of the future mourned the end of an era.
What is to become of the ultimate quest to reach for the stars, people wondered.
That quest is alive and well, we posed.
The conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program is merely the end of one chapter, with many more to follow thanks to the efforts of private industry working in collaboration with NASA.In its next chapter of exploration, the space agency is looking beyond Earth's orbit and the International Space Station by developing technologies that allow astronauts to "go farther and faster into space and at lower costs," NASA administrator Charles Bolden told Congress in November, 2011. In his testimony to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Space, and Transportation, Bolden said the goal is to go beyond low-Earth orbit to destinations such as "asteroids, the Moon and eventually Mars.
Mars. What was once so far away doesn't seem so these days. We are now regularly getting updates and images from Curiosity, the Mars Rover currently exploring our celestial neighbor. And officials believe it won’t be too long before man sets foot on The Red Planet.
"A human mission to Mars is today the ultimate destination in our solar system for humanity, and it is a priority for NASA. Our entire exploration program is aligned to support this goal," Bolden said during a recent conference of space experts at George Washington University.
President Barack Obama has proposed a $17.7 billion dollar budget for NASA in 2014, and, as Bolden put it, he supports a "vibrant and coordinated strategy for Mars exploration."
But as an Agence France-Presse report, published yesterday, points out, “there is plenty that experts do not know about how to reach Mars.”
“There is no existing space vehicle to carry people on the seven-month or longer journey there, not to mention no plan for returning people to Earth. Medical experts are unsure what the physical ramifications would be for people who attempt to travel in high-radiation environments for such extended periods. And just how people would survive, breathe, eat and drink on the dry, red planet are significant obstacles that have yet to be overcome.”
One thing is clear, however. As the world’s best scientists work to figure out the answers to those important questions, their discoveries will have a positive effect here at home, as well.
As the Reformer editorial pointed out two years ago: “By reaching out to the stars we may find the answers we need right here on our own planet. Perhaps out there, and in the course of conducting the research to get there, lies the solutions to such vexing problems as renewable energy, more efficient modes of transportation, pollution prevention, agricultural techniques that reduce the wear and tear on our planet, and so on. ... History has shown that industry has a knack for finding practical and commercially viable (read profitable) uses for technology that was initially developed in a government or university think-tank. ... Consider the Internet. Its origins date back to research of the 1960s, commissioned by the U.S. government in collaboration with private commercial interests to build robust computer networks. By the 1990s, the Internet began its incorporation into virtually every aspect of modern human life. It created whole new industries, and also provided greater efficiency and profitability for existing industries.”
As Bolden astutely pointed out during his address, "We can't wait until the technology is available before we go and explore ... We now stand on the precipice of a second opportunity to press forward to what I think is man's destiny."
And so we conclude today, just as we did before: Just imagine the possibilities when we set our goals even higher and reach for the stars.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
It’s clear that being a kid today, in 2013 America, is different than other generations remember.
As with everything, there’s good and there’s bad. The good? Amazing technological advances makes information on anything literally at your fingertips. The bad? Danger seems to be lurking around every corner, and sometimes it feels like no place is truly safe.
That said, it’s clear our nation’s schools are trying to do their best to keep our kids safe. But at what cost? Over the past decade and a half, in the shadow of the Columbine shooting and the country’s continued battle on drugs, many schools have taken a zero-tolerance policy on a host of issues, from bringing weapons or pills to campus, to violence against fellow students and faculty. (Yet, we still can’t get a handle on bullying?)
Certainly you can understand the effort. But if our legal system has taught us anything, it’s that judging people without context can lead to trouble. For your consideration:
Dateline: Bartow, Florida. Last month, a 16-year-old student arrives at school, early on a Monday, to work on a science experiment. As Miami’s News Times reports: “Kiera Wilmot got good grades and had a perfect behavior record. She wasn't the kind of kid you'd expect to find hauled away in handcuffs and expelled from school, but that's exactly what happened after an attempt at a science project went horribly wrong.”
Wilmot mixed some chemicals in a plastic bottle. The reaction “caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.” Her principal would later tell a local TV station that "She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too." He added he didn’t believe she meant to hurt anyone.
Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer, was charged (including a felony) and will be tried as an adult. Suffice to say, she was also expelled from school. Last week, when asked about the punishment, the school district said that children need to learn “there are consequences for their actions.”
Dateline: Sumter, South Carolina. Earlier this year, a 6-year-old brings her brother’s clear plastic toy gun to class -- to show her friends as she’ll later tell a local TV station -- and not only was expelled from class, but, as New York’s Daily News reports, “Little Naomi McKinney is apparently such a threat that a district official sent a letter ... warning her parents that if she’s caught on school grounds she’ll be ‘subject to the criminal charge of trespassing.’”
That report had references to three other, similar incidents from the past several months, from around the country.
Yes, we need to be sensitive, perhaps overly so, to certain things most adults may roll their eyes at. (After all, as mentioned above, these are different times.) Is bringing a clear plastic toy gun to school a mistake? Of course, Does a 6-year-old comprehend the severity of that action? Of course not. Can mixing chemicals at school be dangerous? Of course. Should authorities consider the context of that action -- doing the experiment well before school, when no other students would be around; Wilmot’s prior record -- in this case? Yes!
There’s a fine line between keeping students safe and ruining their academic careers (sometimes before they even begin, as in the case of the kindergarten student). Might we suggest schools embrace near-zero-tolerance policies, on these and other issues students are challenged by on a daily basis.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
More than a year and a half after Tropical Storm Irene and the flooding it caused ravaged southern Vermont, glimmers of it’s destruction and our efforts to repair are still all around us.
Consider, for a moment, two front page stories from Monday’s Reformer: one detailing the efforts to continue renovations on Wilmington’s Memorial Hall; another applauding the community effort to repair the South Newfane Schoolhouse. What do both of these sites have in common? Both damaged by the floods, they served as a community gathering center as Vermonters in those areas tried to come to grips with the havoc caused by Mother Nature in the days following Irene.
"During Irene (the schoolhouse) became a gathering spot for everyone in South Newfane," Dave Roberts told the Reformer. "We felt like this was something that was preserved and after Irene we decided we wanted to do more to save it."
The building needs a new floor, and so volunteers stepped up over the weekend to pull up the old one so that, over the coming weeks, a new one could be installed. Residents have also been fundraising to install a new heating system.
Meanwhile, in Wilmington, a document calling for proposals for work on Memorial Hall features a laundry list of items in need of repair: The basement, including the mechanical room, was significantly damaged; The boiler was rebuilt but is now failing and is in need of replacement; now sought is an efficient heating and cooling system; and upgrades to the electrical system.
In both cases, the towns are trying to make better what was once damaged, echoing sentiments we’ve heard and reported many times over the past 18-plus months.
In addition to buildings, many folks are still trying to pick up the pieces after their entire homes were washed away. From a report in the April 9 Reformer: "The state is on schedule to close most residents’ Tropical Storm Irene-related government aid cases by late summer, meaning they will have safe housing by the second anniversary of flooding that damaged more than 7,000 homes," according to a report by Gov. Peter Shumlin.
According to an issued report, "394 cases in the disaster care management program have been closed and 277 cases continue to receive services with six months remaining on the $2.4 million grant from FEMA to support individuals and families affected by the storm."
Far be it for our countryside to be forgotten in all of this. From a story published on April 10: "The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation recently approved a grant for a program called Trees For Streams, which aims to improve land within Windham County along streams affected by Tropical Storm Irene."
Dana Ruppert, project director of Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District, told the Reformer that his group was aiming to re-establish vegetation along areas that were hit hard by the floods.
"We’ll be working with farmers and landowners, trying to figure out areas or projects are that the largest resource concerned. Then we’ll step in and help re-vegetate that area," he said.
Surely stories will continue to trickle out in the coming months leading to the second anniversary. Let these stories serve two purposes: to illustrate just how serious the destruction caused by Irene’s flooding was; but, more importantly, to show how resilient Vermonters continue to be, a true testament to the "Vermont Strong" license plates so many folks display proudly on their vehicles.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
In November 1982, a 10-year-old from Maine, concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov:
“Dear Mr. Andropov,
“My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.”
Thirty years ago today, Andropov responded to Samantha’s letter, after it was printed in a Soviet newspaper. It read, in part:
“Your question is the most important of those that every thinking man can pose. ... (W)e in the Soviet Union are trying to do everything so that there will not be war on Earth. ... (T)oday we want very much to live in peace, to trade and cooperate with all our neighbors on this earth -- with those far away and those near by. And certainly with such a great country as the United States of America.
“In America and in our country there are nuclear weapons -- terrible weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant. But we do not want them to be ever used. ... We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.
“I invite you, if your parents will let you, to come to our country ... I wish you all the best in your young life.”
Samantha and her family took Andropov up on his offer, visiting in July of that year. It captured the media’s attention in both countries, as well at the imagination of the entire world. The event turned young Samantha into a goodwill ambassador and a celebrity. Sadly, Samantha died just a few years later, at age 13, in a plane crash.
Still today, 30 years later, the innocence of her letter rings true. With several hotspots around the world where the threat of a nuclear skirmish breaking out is more real than we care to believe, let’s hope Samantha can continue to inspire good.
Thirty years ago, one 10-year-old captured the world’s attention. Imagine the attention hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of voices could demand.
[NOTE: Read more about Samantha Smith's life here.]
[Here's a sneak peek at our editorial on the bombings at the Boston Marathon:]
More than a decade after the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the explosions that rocked the Boston Marathon on Monday were grim reminders that terrorists are still among us.
In commenting on Monday’s attacks, in which three people were killed and more than 140 injured, President Barack Obama was careful not to use the words terror or terrorists (though on Tuesday, he did classify it as an "act of terrorism"). He urged Americans not to jump to conclusions until we have all the facts and find out who perpetrated such a heinous act. But whether those responsible are Islamic extremists from abroad or evil-doers from right here at home (remember Timothy McVeigh), what happened in Boston was by every definition a terrorist act.
Police said the bombs had been placed in trash cans, less than 100 yards apart, near the finish line. Unconfirmed reports said the explosions were triggered by remote control, and officials said police found at least two suspicious packages at other downtown locations, including a footbridge near the Copley Plaza Hotel.
That it happened at the Boston Marathon was a tragic irony on many levels. Terrorists, unfortunately, seem to have a knack for choosing a place or event at which an attack would provide the biggest symbolic blow to our country and our psyche.
Back in 2001, the targets were the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, iconic symbols of America’s global military and economic dominance. In many ways the explosions in Boston struck even deeper into our soul.
First, a marathon is an endurance race, a test of one’s physical and mental stamina, a personal Mount Everest for all of those who make the attempt. Some strive to beat their personal best time, for others the victory is in simply crossing the finish line, which was marked by a string of colorful flags from countries represented by the racers. They had no way of knowing when they started the race that bombs would be waiting for them at that finish line. For those who were able to complete the race, their personal victories rang hollow the minute the bombs were detonated and spewed shrapnel all over the area. Blood was streaked across sidewalks and the street where moments earlier runners consumed by exhaustion and joy had embraced friends and family.
This all took place in one of America’s oldest and most historic cities, one of the very cities, in fact, where the United States was born, and the bombings came on one of Boston’s most important days of civic celebration. Monday was Patriots’ Day, a state holiday that recalls the first battles of the American Revolution and brings Bostonians together for their world-famous marathon.
Worse yet, the final mile of this year’s race was dedicated to victims of December’s school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and some relatives of children who died that day were in attendance. As if they haven’t had enough tragedy and horror in their lives recently, this was like pouring salt on a still very open wound.
For all Americans, the events in Boston on Monday reopened old wounds. We watched on the television screen in déjà vu horror as the chaos unfolded: People running from the explosions, some screaming and crying, others frozen in a state of shock; medical personnel and volunteers scrambling to set up triage centers and tend to the injured; police trying desperately to evacuate the area, restore calm and investigate a crime scene. Reports of heightened security reverberated throughout the country, and the world, as the realization of what was happening quickly sank in.
In the years since 9/11, America has tightened up security on many fronts, especially at the airports. Thanks to those efforts a number of attempted bombings have been thwarted over the past decade. In Boston, security at the marathon was carefully planned; hundreds of police officers and other emergency workers lined the route. But as with any marathon, the 26.2-mile course is open and sprawling, stretching through the city and its neighboring towns.
Unfortunately, despite the best attempts, safety in this age of terrorism cannot be 100 percent guaranteed. Some of those directly affected by the explosions have already said they will probably never participate in another marathon because of what happened on Monday. We can certainly understand that sentiment; it may take years for these people to recover emotionally and/or physically from such a trauma. Many of those who were at Ground Zero on 9/11 still carry those scars.
However, we as a nation endured the attacks from 2001. Many things have changed since then, to be sure, but though we may grumble at the airport screenings and other high security measures, life eventually did return to some semblance of normal for most of us. People still fly in airplanes, the pentagon was repaired and a new memorial structure now takes the place of the Twin Towers in New York City.
We recovered then, and we will recover now. To do otherwise means the terrorists win.
[A sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
It’s been about a month since the U.S. government failed to come to an agreement on our nation’s budget and we entered the sequester.
Notice anything different?
Writer Michael Tanner summed it up best in his tongue-in-cheek piece published this week by National Review Online: “Government spending had been cut, or at least the rate of growth had been slowed, yet everywhere I looked people were going about their daily lives as if nothing had happened. There has been no outbreak of diseases from tainted, uninspected meat. Airplanes have not fallen from the sky; indeed, they continue landing and taking off more or less on schedule. The American military is still conducting operations around the world, in countries both important and obscure. Al-Qaeda has not established the caliphate in Kabul, let alone New York. Mass starvation had been held at bay, for the time being.”
In reality, the changes have been smaller, more subtle. Some federal agencies have gone through belt tightening. White House tours have been cancelled. Defense department furloughs will happen at some point.
Which is not to say we should continue down this path for any length of time. Cuts to national health and human services will begin to trickle down to the local level. Not to mention that many of the much-discussed cuts will come in future years, even though they’re counted toward this current budget. (You know how tricky economics can be.)
But while all this talk of doom and gloom may, for the moment, appears more like much ado about nothing, consider this headline from D.C. news outlet The Hill: “Sequester axe falls in Washington -- but not on lawmaker salaries.”
“Hundreds of thousands of federal employees will take a pay cut because of this year's $85 billion in automatic spending cuts, including about 750,000 at the Pentagon alone,” writes Pete Kasperowicz in the April 2 report. “Air traffic control towers are being closed, unemployment benefits are being reduced ... Congressional offices ... (have) had to reduce office budgets, and some members have said they may have to lay off staff.”
The kicker? Lawmakers themselves won't take a pay cut because member pay is completely exempted from the sequester.
This is due to a Reagan-era law -- the 1985 Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Balanced Budget Act -- which “exempted some programs from the sequester, including elements of Social Security, interest on the debt and federal Pell grants.”
Also included? Lawmakers’ salaries as well as that of the president.
Look, we take this topic seriously. But much like it has in the past, Washington seems to have cried wolf over the immediate impact these types of fiscal “emergencies” create on the nation. That said, there is a saying that if you aren’t directly affected by a trauma, you’ll be less inclined to work hard toward a solution.
What this country needs now is people working hard toward a solution; To push our country out of the recession; To build (or re-build) our infrastructure; To boost our economy both at home and at the global level; To create jobs. Most of all, we deserve to have lawmakers stand to lose just as much as we, the people who voted them to office, will if they continue to choose politics over practicality.
NOTE: Check out Michale Tanner's full piece, here.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
Keep your eyes on the road.
It seems like a simple request -- make that instruction -- when taking control of a several ton vehicle. After all, you’re not only taking your own life in your hands, but all the other that share the road with you.
That’s what makes a recent study from AT&T so troubling.
While everyone assumes it’s teenagers who are the most egregious offenders when it comes to texting and driving, the new survey shows that adults are more likely to be driving distracted.
Nearly half of all adults surveyed -- 49 percent -- said that they text and drive. And they do so even while acknowledging that the habit is dangerous. What’s worse is that it’s a trend on the rise.
According to a report by The Washington Post, “Six out of 10 drivers said they never texted behind the wheel just three years ago.” The top reasons given for distracted driving include staying productive and feeling connected.
Well, that’s certainly a testament to the daily grind folks find themselves in these days.
The Washington Post report continues: “The survey on teens provided a bit more data on why young people choose to text and drive. One reason is that most text-message users, the survey said, expect a reply within five minutes or less — 48 percent of teens said they expect a response right away once they fire off a text message.”
If you’re looking for any positives to take away from the survey, consider this: Parents’ behavior, it was found, had a noticeable influence on their children’s actions. That means make it family rule to not text and drive. And perhaps a limit on daily texts or rules on what time these exchanges take place would be good ideas.
Many states, including Vermont, have already drafted and enforced some form of texting laws. Here in the Green Mountain State, the “texting law” took effect June 1, 2010. It states that all drivers are prohibited from texting while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway, and that only drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from other use of portable electronic devices.
We all know it’s dangerous. Then again, we all know drinking and driving is dangerous, but look at how many people are still prosecuted for that each year.
We think the current rules are a good start, but could be stricter. Penalties should be more severe for those who cause accidents because of distracted driving. Besides that, education is key. Adults need to start acting like adults and being safe behind the wheel. Parents should set the example and create rules in their families to instill safe driving habits.
Will it solve the problem? Maybe not. But it will start us on the safer path.
[A sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
Unless you’re making upwards of $18 per hour, chances are you can’t afford a basic apartment in Vermont.
At least, that’s according to a new report jointly released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a self-described Washington, D.C.,-based research and advocacy organization, and the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition. The report compiled data for every state, metropolitan area, combined non-metropolitan area and county in the United States. For these areas, it presents the Housing Wage, which is the “hourly wage a family must earn, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, to be able to afford rent and utilities for a safe and modest home in the private housing market,” according to the report.
That exact figure for Vermonters: $18.53; an annual income of $38,541.
“Vermont has been and still is one of the states with the least affordable rental housing,” Ted Wimpey, director of the Fair Housing Project at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity and chairman of the Vermont Coalition, stated in a release on the report. “It is extremely difficult now for even moderate income people in Vermont to find affordable rental housing, and the situation has many serious consequences including increased homelessness and suppressed economic development in Vermont.”
Consider the following numbers: — 2.2. That’s how many full-time workers a family needs, working at minimum wage ($8.60 per hour) to afford a “modest” two-bedroom apartment.
— 86. That’s how many hours one person would need to work to afford the same. Kind of puts it in perspective when you think about single-parent households.
— 964. That’s the dollar amount of the Fair Market Rent for the above-mentioned two-bedroom apartment.
— 11.67. Dollars and cents, that’s what the typical renter in Vermont earns.
— 63. That’s the estimated percentage of renters in Vermont who, according to the report, do not earn enough to afford the “modest two-bedroom apartment.”
For perspective, these figures rank Vermont 15th most expensive in the nation for renters; the state jumps up to ninth place when you only consider non-metropolitan areas.
We think that’s just way too high.
And, if all of that weren’t troubling enough, the report also points out that someone living on Social Security, at $750 a month, can’t afford more than $225 per month in rent. Especially troubling when you consider the aging population of our state.
As Jeanne Montross, executive director of Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects and chairwoman of the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness points out: “The economic difficulty in recent years has caused a real housing crisis for many Vermonters. With scarcer housing subsidies and reduced funding for the creation of new affordable housing, this is creating a wave of distress that we will be dealing with for years to come.”
Indeed, not only has housing and community development funding been cut by more than $3 million over the past three years, but the sequestration is forcing further cuts to programs that could be of massive assistance. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that Vermont is in line to lose $500,000 in housing and development funds.
We think it’s high time the federal government take a closer look at our nation’s tax codes, which typically benefit higher income people instead of the middle and lower classes. Furthermore, across-the-board cuts to assistance programs does nothing to advance the country’s financial future. These are programs than not only help homeowners and renters, but also families who, because both parents are forced to work, need extra assistance for child care. Not to mention the help going toward the organizations which provide said child care.
These numbers paint a grim portion of a much larger issue. Let’s hope elected officials at the state and national level begin to listen to the majority, instead of those with the deepest pockets.