News

Targeting the Most Vulnerable with Sustainable Solutions

Increasing costs for basic necessities coupled with stagnating or reduced real income over time is a recipe for increasing hardship and inequality. Energy is one area where costs have risen dramatically compared to income over the last several decades. Added to this, the poorer quality housing available to low-income families in Vermont is often uninsulated and inefficient, resulting in higher costs for home heating and cooling. The result is severely disproportionate energy burdens for low-income households. Those earning 50% - 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) in Vermont are estimated to have home energy bills amounting to 25% of their income, and those who earn less than 50% of the FPL pay almost half of their income (Fisher, Sheehan & Colton, 2016).  

But there is at least one aspect of this bleak picture that offers some hope, one in which Vermont is one of the leaders in the nation—the increased focus on sustainability of our energy resources, particularly the commitment to increasing home energy-efficiency. And far from “freezing out” households with low incomes, Vermont has invested in programs that specifically target these households. The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), offered mainly through the state’s Community Action Agencies, including SEVCA, is at the cutting edge in terms of offering sustainable, energy-saving solutions for some of our most vulnerable households at no cost to them. This program receives some funding from federal appropriations, but the majority of its funding comes from a consumption-based state tax on heating oil, propane, and kerosene. While funding has not nearly reached the level that will enable the state to achieve its goal of 80,000 homes weatherized between 2008 and 2020 (the goal set when the Vermont Energy Efficiency and Affordability Act was passed), it is having a significant impact.

Benefits for the residents of homes and apartments that are weatherized through WAP are dramatic and immediate—they save an average of 24.5% on their energy costs every year (Office of Economic Opportunity report to the Vermont State Legislature, January 30, 2018). Households with heating oil as their source of heat in state fiscal year 2016-17 (FY17) were estimated to have saved $442/year (at $2.27/gallon for fuel oil, a price which has increased significantly this year). Plus, there are huge benefits for our environment. According to a report by the Thermal Efficiency Task Force, fossil fuels used in buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont, and weatherization is recommended as the most important, cost effective intervention to address that. The estimated reduction in carbon released into the atmosphere of for the 893 homes weatherized by WAP in FY17 alone was 1,592 tons/year —add to that the carbon savings from all of the units weatherized in previous years (the program has been active since 1973), and it’s clear that WAP makes a considerable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet these impressive benefits are only the beginning. By partnering with Efficiency Vermont, WAP is working to simultaneously improve thermal and electrical efficiency. Each household scheduled for weatherization services is visited by an Efficiency Coach, who explains the entire weatherization process and also does an assessment of various efficiency improvements the household is eligible for, from simple things like LED light bulbs to appliances like heat pumps, energy-efficient refrigerators, and "mini-splits" for heating and cooling. The Efficiency Coach can install some items at this visit, like bulbs and low-flow shower heads, but a crucial aspect of the service is talking to clients about behavioral change. “The most important part of what I do is talk to them about the impact of lifestyle changes on their energy costs,” says Victor Baisley, SEVCA’s Efficiency Coach. “For example, hot water can be one of the major factors in high electricity bills, and I tell them how much they can save if they do their laundry in cold water or take shorter showers.”

The Efficiency Coach is also the point person for another important state intervention—the One Touch program, which generates referrals to numerous health and basic needs programs based on an intake survey of weatherization clients. The survey identifies people who don’t have health insurance, might have a high risk of falls, suffer from asthma, want to stop smoking, etc., and connects them to relevant programs that can help them. “We’re in the home, and that gives us the opportunity to develop a relationship with the client; one of the first things I do during my visit is to make the client feel at ease,” says Baisley, so much so that most agree to participate in One Touch and are glad to find out about these resources. Last year, Vermont’s program won a HUD Healthy Homes Award for their efforts to deliver health and home improvement interventions in an integrated way.  

Weatherization itself generates longer-term direct and indirect health benefits to residents as well as extending the life of the home. The whole-home approach WAP utilizes helps keep homes at a comfortable temperature while minimizing hazards like mold or other air pollutants in the home (triggers for asthma or exacerbating factors for emphysema, for example), or ice dams on the roof (leading to damaged and/or leaky roofs). This helps protect low-income households from having to cope with unexpected health care or home repair expenses that perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty.

Despite all of the persuasive arguments in support of increased funding for Weatherization, the program continues to be vulnerable to budget cuts. The recent Trump Budget for 2017-18 zeroed out the Weatherization program, and while Congress is unlikely to take this recommendation seriously, the program could still be targeted for large cuts. Nor is the State of Vermont committed to appropriating the funding needed to meet its own goal for Weatherization…yet; though there is a strong coalition of organizations pushing for just that.

Miguel Orantes of Bellows Falls received Weatherization assistance from SEVCA at a low point in his life, when he had been waiting for months to receive disability benefits after a debilitating accident, followed by a serious illness. Prior to Weatherization, he said he needed four cords of wood plus oil heat to stay warm, and it was much more than he could afford. Now that his home is weatherized, even with the cold winter we’re experiencing this season, he says he doesn’t expect to use more than half a cord of wood, and his oil bill is “almost nothing.” “It’s ridiculous to live in an uninsulated home in New England,” Miguel says. “The Weatherization program is a necessity, not a luxury. Cutting it is simply not sustainable.”

We couldn’t agree more! Vermont has invested much, but could still do more to bring the financial and environmental benefits of weatherization to all residents. In the longer term, as the impact of climate change promises to be ever more devastating, home weatherization and efficiency measures need to increasingly become one of our national priorities.

Immediate Head Start Openings in Springfield

SEVCA’s Head Start program in Windsor County offers a no-cost, high quality early education program to income-eligible families with children ages 3 to 5. We’re opening an extra classroom in Springfield on March 19 for 15 children, who will attend the program from 8:30 AM – 12:30 PM, Monday through Thursday. There is still space available, so families should apply now! Families that need full-day care for their child should also apply, as there are a few afternoon child care slots available.

All Head Start sites in Springfield, Chester, White River Junction, and Windsor are accepting applications for the 2018-19 school year. Children must turn age 3 by September 1 to enroll. A full-day program is available in Springfield (M – F, 7:30 AM – 4:30 PM), and our other centers in Chester, Windsor, and White River Junction will offer six hours/day of classroom instruction, 5 days/week (M – F, 8 AM – 2 PM). This makes it easier for children with working parents to attend, and gives children the chance to rest or nap in the afternoon, have an additional healthy snack, and enjoy quiet activities.

Head Start helps children reach their full potential by providing age-appropriate developmental opportunities, educational and developmental assessments that chart their progress, and health screenings. In addition, Head Start supports the entire family, providing parents with the information and support to become effective parents as well as to work toward their own goals. And this year, Head Start introduced a more comprehensive 6-week parenting class, Positive Solutions. The curriculum was developed through the Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL), and promotes positive and effective parenting behaviors, which in turn will promote children’s social and emotional development and help address their challenging behaviors. 

“I like how involved the parents get to be in the classroom and out of the classroom,” said Felicia from Springfield. She recently attended a family craft day where she and her 4-year old daughter, Kendra, made friendship bracelets, and she said she enjoys the “buddy breakfasts” and “lady lunches” as well. Kendra is in her second year at Head Start, and Felicia is thrilled with how her daughter has come out of her shell: “Kendra wasn't a child to join in on group play with other kids her first year; now she will join in or even suggest a game they all can play.” Both Felicia and her husband had attended Head Start programs as children, and enrolled Kendra as soon as they found out there was a program in their town.

For more information and to obtain an application, check our website at: http://www.sevca.org/head-start/enrolled-families. Ready to enroll? Please contact SEVCA’s Head Start Program Director, Lori Canfield, at 802-885-6669 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A Chance to Improve Your “Financial Fitness”

Free Classes in Brattleboro

SEVCA is inviting local residents to register for its upcoming workshop series, “Your Money, Your Goals,” to be held in Brattleboro starting March 20. This 7-part workshop series will help families and individuals improve their relationship with money, develop strong financial habits, and take steps toward economic security. Topics covered include: saving, spending, credit, home buying, insurance, purchasing a car, and saving for college. The instructor will review participants’ credit reports and offer recommendations to build healthy credit or resolve credit issues, as well as provide individualized financial coaching to help participants and their families become more financially secure.

The workshop series is free and open to the public. Those who complete the course may be eligible to join SEVCA’s Individual Development Account (IDA) matched savings program. IDA participants earn $2 for every $1 they save (up to $1,000) if they save a minimum of $25 each month toward purchasing a home, obtaining education or job training, or starting or enhancing their own business.

The course will be held at Marlboro College, 28 Vernon St., Brattleboro from 5:30-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, March 20 through May 1. There is no cost for the program, but pre-registration is required. Please call to register at 802-722-4575, ext. 151, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

Trump Budget Threatens Critical Safety Net Services Locally

For the second year, the Trump Administration proposes to eliminate all funding for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), threatening the existence of about 1,000 local Community Action Agencies (CAAs) that serve about 16 million low-income people every year. The Trump budget would also eliminate federal funding for other programs that assist families with low incomes in our area, including the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which help ensure that vulnerable families are able to save on home energy costs and keep their homes heated during the harsh Vermont winters.

It goes without saying that SEVCA and the people we serve would be directly and profoundly affected by such extreme cuts. Congress is unlikely to take such drastic measures, but with the enactment of the Republican tax cut plan in December, which offered huge tax breaks to the richest taxpayers, Congress will face increasing pressure to make major cuts in these and many other essential programs.

SEVCA’s Executive Director, Steve Geller, objected strongly to the Trump Budget: This is the bill now being delivered to hardworking Americans struggling to make ends meet so they can pay for the massive tax cuts delivered to millionaires and big corporations by eliminating or making heartless cuts in virtually every program that helps reduce the hardships of poverty and support ordinary Americans — fuel and housing assistance, Medicaid, food and nutrition assistance, TANF, support for people with disabilities, and many more services that make life better for children, families, and the elderly. Geller added, “This cynical shell game will also undermine state and local budgets, leading to cuts in basic services at the community level as well. And now Trump wants the same people who stand to lose the most from this unfair budget to pay for his wall that he swore he was going to make Mexico pay for. Now we see who’s really going to pay and who’s going to benefit.”

Community Action Agencies use their CSBG grants to develop extensive community partnerships, identify pressing local needs, and mobilize public and private resources to meet those needs. CAAs respond to short-term crises that can topple a working family into poverty, and address chronic conditions that can trap multiple generations in dependency. Thanks to CSBG, they are nimble and respond quickly to emergencies, they are creative and fill service gaps, and they ensure cost-effective use of funds on behalf of their communities and individual families. The Administration’s proposed cuts would devastate the capacity of the CAAs to fulfill their anti-poverty mission.

David Bradley, CEO of the National Community Action Foundation, which represents Community Action Agencies, said: "Cutting CSBG, flexible local dollars that create opportunity for 16 million people across the country, a program with bipartisan support in Congress, abandons every community in America and burdens local communities. Congress--Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate--will not accept this cut."

Both WAP and LIHEAP have enjoyed similar bipartisan support in Congress for many decades. WAP was first authorized by Congress in 1976 to address high energy costs. Since then, the program has created a market for building science-based energy efficiency technologies and services. Agencies focus on homes with high energy use or high energy bills relative to income, prioritizing families with elderly or disabled members, or with children. Families whose homes are weatherized typically experience savings of 20-30% on their energy bills, as well as improved health outcomes. The program also reduces carbon-based emissions that contribute to climate change.

Miguel Orantes of Bellows Falls received Weatherization assistance from SEVCA at a low point in his life, when he had been waiting for months to receive disability benefits after a debilitating accident, followed by a serious illness. Prior to Weatherization, he said he needed four cords of wood plus oil heat to stay warm, and it was much more than he could afford. Now that his home is weatherized, even with the cold winter we’re experiencing now, he says he doesn’t expect to use more than half a cord of wood, and his oil bill is “almost nothing.” “It’s ridiculous to live in an uninsulated home in New England,” Miguel says. “The Weatherization program is a necessity, not a luxury. Cutting it is simply not sustainable.”

The Trump Administration proposal to eliminate funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would put millions of the most vulnerable Americans at risk. In recent years, LIHEAP has helped over six million U.S. families heat or cool their homes, and keep the lights on. In Vermont, about 20,000 families depend on LIHEAP assistance. The elimination of LIHEAP funding would put several thousand local residents at great risk of being without heat during the winter.

SEVCA’s experience in administering Crisis Fuel Assistance over the years has demonstrated that when households run out of fuel, they will go to great lengths to keep warm, including heating their homes with their ovens or dangerous space heaters that increase the risk of fires or carbon monoxide poisoning. Due to our unusually cold winter this season, coupled with rising fuel costs, the number of people seeking Crisis Fuel assistance has increased, and many families have exhausted their LIHEAP (Seasonal Fuel) benefit as well as the maximum available Crisis Fuel assist. The only option for many who can’t afford to heat their homes is the smaller pot of private and community funds SEVCA raises to fill in the gaps—and there’s not nearly enough to help everyone who needs it.

Cutting the only safety net for heating and utilities available to our most vulnerable households, particularly here in Vermont where the weather is so volatile, would be absolutely devastating for our community and the people we serve, said SEVCA’s Family Services Director, Pat Burke. “We need to stand together and advocate to make sure these ill-considered cuts are never enacted.”

Donations Needed for SEVCA’s Care for Kids & Families Collection Drive

SEVCA’s “Good Buy” Thrift Stores are now offering customers the opportunity to give to local kids and families in need and get something back at the same time. From February 1 through March 31, everyone who donates personal care items to SEVCA’s “Care for Kids & Families” Collection Drive will receive 10% off any purchase at our Good Buy Stores. Diapers, baby formula, shampoo, and toothpaste are some of the items urgently needed by local homeless shelters and food shelves to distribute to families in need.

“The Good Buy Stores already provide a service to our communities by offering low-cost clothing, furniture, and household goods (and free clothing and furniture for families in crisis), but we wanted to do more,” said Darline Rhoades, SEVCA’s Thrift Stores Director. “A lot of people think about donating food, but it turns out that one of the biggest unmet needs in our area is actually for baby care and personal care products.”

Items collected will be distributed through the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Our Place Drop-in Center in Bellows Falls, and the Springfield Family Center. These organizations offer groceries, meals, and shelter to hundreds of families in crisis every month, but often come up short when it comes to providing the personal care essentials most people take for granted.

Samantha Lane, Administrative Coordinator for the Springfield Family Center, said that many area organizations are experiencing an uptick in people seeking their help. They operate a day shelter for the homeless (with showers), daily meals, and a food shelf, among other services. Lane said that in December alone, 482 households (624 individuals) utilized the food shelf, 586 people received daily meals, and 68 people used the day shelter showers. Personal hygiene products are in high demand. “If these products are available through the food shelf, they go in a matter of minutes…these are the items we struggle the most to provide,” Lane said. Although many organizations sponsor food drives to benefit the Springfield Family Center, “Most people don’t think about donating personal hygiene products; they don’t realize how badly we need them.” She said that every donation helps, and they are grateful to be one of the beneficiaries for the “Good Buy” Thrift Store’s collection drive.

Jennifer Fontaine, Director of Operations at the Upper Valley Haven, said that personal care items are in high demand among their clients as well. The Haven serves 1,200-1,300 people per month at its food shelf, and up to 38 individuals in its regular and seasonal shelters and 8 families in its family shelter on any given night. “We don’t have the money to spend on these items, but there’s a huge need. People can’t take care of themselves without things like toothpaste or shampoo; plus, a lot of these items, like diapers and tampons, are really expensive,” she said. “These are things that people can’t use their 3SquaresVT benefits to purchase.” 

Items needed for the Care for Kids & Families Collection Drive include disposable diapers (especially sizes 3, 4, & 5), baby wipes, infant formula, baby lotion and powder, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, feminine products, tissues (Kleenex) and toilet paper. “Good Buy” Store locations in Springfield, White River Junction, and Bellows Falls are all accepting donations. Customers may shop when they drop off their contribution or use their 10% discount during a future visit. The location, hours, and contact information for the stores can be found at http://www.sevca.org/thrift-stores/locations or by calling SEVCA at (800) 464-9951.

 

"If I could give you one thought, it would be to lift someone up. Lift a stranger up--lift her up. I would ask you, mother and father, brother and sister, lovers, mother and daughter, father and son, lift someone. The very idea of lifting someone up will lift you, as well."

Maya Angelou