Blog & Tiny Polls

In the months ahead, I’ll be sharing a series of “Tiny Polls” accompanied by blog posts. I hope to hear your input, thoughts, and experiences – using them to inform my understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face.

And, as always, please don’t hesitate to reach out:

Email: tiff@tiffbluemle.com
Phone: (802) 393-8171

Blog Post 5: Making the Most of Vermont Talent

We talk about the need to attract new talent to fill anticipated labor shortages. But we also need, and have the opportunity to better nurture, potential that’s already here.

How do we know we’re missing out on talent? 

  • Only about half of Vermont high school graduates enroll in college, nearly 20 points lower than the national average of 72%.  
  • Women and people of color are just a small percentage of workers in professions that are forecast to experience labor shortages – electricians, software developers, IT specialists, engineering, solar installation and manufacturing. And these patterns don’t show any signs of changing.
  • A significant majority of Vermonters who live with disabilities are un- or underemployed: only 16% of women and 23% of men living with disabilities work full-time. 

Supporting Vermonters in discovering and developing their talents must be at the heart of economic policy – particularly, because the jobs we have lost in retail, manufacturing, arts, recreation, and hospitality can be replaced with new opportunities in affordable housing construction, alternative energy production, health care delivery, and cyber security.

I invite your thoughts about whose talent we might be missing and what we can do to build the capacity of Vermont’s workforce in this week’s Tiny Poll.

Blog Post 4: On Re-Opening our Schools

Recently, I sat on a neighbor’s front lawn with some of her friends to talk about the issues that concerned them most. When our conversation turned to opening schools, it became deeply personal. Two of those gathered are dedicated teachers who raised concerns about the safety of returning this fall. 

Since March, schools have done a lot of heavy lifting. They turned on a dime, moved classroom instruction online, and supported the emotional and social needs of students and their families. 

Spring’s challenges, however, pale in comparison to the decisions educators and parents now face: (how) can our schools safely reopen? 

And to further complicate this question, Vermont has provided insufficient guidance for our schools by qualifying its recommendations. While a six-foot distance between students is best practice, the state notes, it is “not required. Schools should set up classrooms as best they can.”

Here is a sampling of what I’ve been hearing at my dinner table and in discussions with educators: 

  • Schools are being asked to take responsibility for the health of students, their families, and their employees. The Agency of Education must be clearer about the parameters for safe operation.
  • Will schools have the support that the Agency of Education has promised in obtaining personal protection and cleaning supplies that are currently nearly impossible and expensive to find?
  • Are we doing all that we can to identify spaces (parks, ice rinks, community gardens, theaters, recreational gyms) that could be used as an alternative to indoor classrooms? 

Many of us are wrestling with these and other questions; I invite you to share your thoughts and concerns in this week’s Tiny Poll.

Blog Post 3: Let us Reimagine – Not Reform – the Criminal Justice System

The other week, during a socially distant gathering, I was asked to identify my number one priority going into the legislature. My response was immediate: re-imagining the criminal justice system.

It is hard for me to believe that anyone involved in the criminal justice system – people who are incarcerated and their families, prosecutors, judges, police officers, or corrections personnel – would assert that the current system works. Just consider a few statistics from a recent VT ACLU report

    • A full 23% of the people who are incarcerated in Vermont are being held pre-trial and have not been convicted of a crime. 
    • An estimated 2 out of 3 prison admissions were for violations of probation, parole, and furlough. This means that the majority of incarcerated Vermonters are being held for technical violations.
    • The rate at which Black adults enter correctional facilities in Vermont was more than seven times higher than the rate for white adults. 

Where do we start in dismantling this system? We know the police are often asked to respond to calls that require mental health expertise, not law enforcement. We could fund Burlington’s Street Outreach program to provide services like those offered by CAHOOTS, a community-based mental health team in Eugene, Oregon that responds to about 20% of that city’s 911 calls. The program has been in place for 30 years and has reportedly saved the city about $8.5 million annually in public safety costs and another $14 million in ambulance and ER costs. 

We can make this change. But let’s be real about what it requires: broad-based buy-in; up-front and significant investments in services that can truly respond to community needs; and our sustained attention well beyond the two-year election cycle.

I’m interested in knowing your priorities as they relate to the criminal justice system. Please share your thoughts with me through this week’s Tiny Poll.

Blog Post 2: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Our Community

In the first weeks of sheltering in place, many people proclaimed COVID-19 to be “the great equalizer.” But the crisis we are all experiencing is particularly devastating for certain groups – people of color, women, and Vermonters who were already struggling to make ends meet.

  • Black Vermonters – who are 1.4% of the state’s population – were 9.6% of those diagnosed COVID-19. 
  • According to the VT Commission on Women, women filed a full 57% of all unemployment claims in May.  
  • Women have also shouldered ⅔ of the burden of essential work during the pandemic. And while they may be essential they are also, in many cases, grossly underpaid. The poverty rate for many – grocery, convenience and drug store workers, facility cleaners, child care and social service workers – is higher than the state average for all Vermont workers. 

The pandemic has made long-standing inequities and the holes in the public safety net far more visible, perhaps because so many more of us have felt the pain that some of our neighbors experience every day. 

Vermont faces many challenges, yes. But we have an opportunity to use what we have learned to address systemic inequities and affirm our shared commitment to supporting basic public needs – among them paid family leave, livable wages for people who work full-time, and universal access to quality, affordable childcare. These things aren’t just good for individuals; they strengthen our communities and are critical to our future.

I’m interested in learning about your experiences with this pandemic and your thoughts about what the legislature should prioritize in January. If you’re willing to share, please take a minute to fill out this week’s Tiny Poll.

Blog Post 1: Supporting Small Businesses

I imagine that you’ve been thinking a lot about the fate of small businesses and business owners over the last three months as I have, especially the ones to which my family and I feel particularly connected. 

If you or those close to you are small business owners, please take the short tiny poll linked above to register how you’ve been weathering this period, and what you think small businesses need to thrive.

Our legislators have been wrestling with how to allocate COVID-19 relief funding from the federal CARES ACT. A number of advocates, including Change The Story, have pushed for the allocation of 5 million dollars to support businesses owned by historically under-represented groups – women and people of color. The goal was for this funding to be made available to businesses of all sizes, even sole proprietorships. The current version, however, limits grant funding to businesses with at least one employee. 

At first blush, it seems like a minor change. But because about 85% of small businesses owned by women or people of color are sole proprietorships, this funding will be available to just 15% of Vermont businesses. This means that some of our self-employed neighbors who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic – like massage therapists, photographers, stylists, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cab drivers, musicians and artists — will be denied access to relief.

I am committed to continuing the work that I have been engaged in for years: fighting for investments in small businesses owned by women and people of color so that they, and we, can thrive.