With one of the lowest wage gaps in the country, the second highest percentage of women in state government, and Vermont’s consistent ranking as one of the top states for women’s reproductive rights (Institute for Women’s Policy Research), Vermont has a lot to be proud of in the fight for women’s equality. That being said, we have much further to go. My administration will:
Commit wholeheartedly to paid family leave. Today, many mothers are forced to return to work soon after their child is born because they cannot support their family on the unpaid leave guaranteed by the national Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But it doesn’t have to be this way - states across the country have created their own models for Paid Family Leave, like California’s program which opens up a state-run paid leave insurance policy with employees buying in through an employee payroll tax. Upon opting-in to this program workers are able to take six weeks off to care for not only a newborn, but also a newly adopted child or an ill family member. Vermont needs to join the ranks of states such as California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey in creating a program that will bring not only economic security but will also ensure that women who chose to raise their kids full-time in the weeks after they give birth are not at a disadvantage in the workforce.
Provide quality affordable child care. The availability of quality, affordable child care is an increasingly important issue that affects families, communities, and the future of the Vermont economy. Parents in Vermont are facing three obstacles: cost, quality, and capacity of childcare. Vermont needs programs that will foster the healthy mental and physical development of the youngest generation of Vermonters, from access to nourishing meals to the latest modern ideas for promoting healthy socialization and mental stimulation.
Relatedly, the state needs to expand the existing Childcare Finance Assistance Program, and remove the “income cliff” which cuts financial assistance to zero if parents earn a dollar over the existing income threshold. Furthermore, affordable, quality child care should be available at all community colleges in Vermont so that having kids is not a barrier to parents who want to pursue more education and increase their economic potential. Lastly, I am committed to continual reassessments of our childcare system, will consider any suggestions in the forthcoming report of the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Financing High Quality Affordable Childcare, and look forward to working with its members and those at Voices for Vermont’s Children, the Vermont Early Childhood Alliance, Let’s Grow Kids and others to develop a more coordinated, affordable, statewide network of providers and programs.
Ensure a diverse group of women have robust representation in state government. My administration will commit to ensuring that women are given a representative share of positions on boards and commissions, and in leadership roles throughout state government. For example, as my administration works to reform our healthcare system I will insist on including a diverse group of women every step of the way from policy-making to implementation. Only with input from everyone will healthcare reform be successful and work for all Vermonters.
Ensure that every woman in Vermont has control over her reproductive choices. I have an absolute commitment to a woman’s right to control her own body. In addition to leading the country in defending reproductive rights, I will strive to ensure that Vermont is the first state where every woman has access - if they want it - to free, long-term birth control. Additionally, my administration will commit to supporting a diverse range of reproductive choices, such as adoptive families and pregnancy assistance, so that all women can pursue the options that work best for them.
Ensure that women in abusive situations have access to immediate help and a safe place to go. With one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country, we need to readdress how we approach domestic abuse and support victims. One critical step to curb abuse in our rural areas is to expand our network of safe havens so that women have easier paths to escape dangerous situations. And, studies have shown that in cases of abuse, some women are much more comfortable reaching out for help via text message. We need to reconfigure our hotline to accommodate text messages so that those in danger can get the help they need as soon as possible.
Enforce equal pay legislation and publish statistics on pay equity for state workers. Vermont has taken steps towards pay equity in recent years including efforts like the “Equal Pay Compact” launched by the Vermont Commission on Women. This proposition invites employers to sign on to take tangible steps towards eliminating the wage gap between men and women. While this is a step forward, the Vermont state government needs to lead by example starting with publishing statistics on pay equity for state workers. This will not only empower workers but showcase efforts by the state government to address this issue.
Change the benefits structure to eliminate the benefit cliff for single mothers. My administration work with community organizations and local leaders to modify the terms of Vermont’s assistance programs so that women who receive mild income raises do not suddenly lose valuable support from the state.
Create job training programs to support women’s career advancement. Vermont has work to do in creating pathways for women in the workforce. My administration would support women who are unemployed or between careers by increasing the reach of career-building organizations such as Step Up and other transitional career programs. Furthermore, we would improve STEM education and training options for women both in schools and beyond. Though Vermont ranks 12th in the country for women in STEM fields, only about 5% of employed women are in these fields, compared with almost 10% of men (The Status of Women in the States, Institute for Women’s Policy Research). The disparity between employment of men and women grows even higher when you look at computer programming. Nationally, only a fifth of programming jobs are held by women, and in Vermont, we need to ensure half of our population isn’t shut out from one of the most important 21st century industries.
Recommit to supporting new mothers. Support for the home-delivery of WIC packages was recently cut, leaving newborns whose mothers are without reliable transportation at serious risk. The state needs to re-commit to delivering WIC packages to our new mothers in need so that their children have access to nourishing meals, which is critical in during infancy.