Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan

COVID-19 exposed the cracks in Vermont’s social safety net. What else, if anything, should the legislature be doing to address the impact of the pandemic on low-income Vermonters?

“I think the focus needs to be on making sure folks have access to the resources that they need, but we also need to focus on the economy and that folks have a reliable source of income as well,” said Dolan.

She thinks that the state needs to continue to support everyone and that by doing so, positive results will trickle down and assist low-income residents even further.

Dolan believes the legislature did a “great job” prioritizing inequities of access to health care, education, and childcare that have been exposed during the pandemic, but she thinks that work needs to be continued going into the next biennium to keep providing a safety net for low-income Vermonters.

Additionally, Dolan said she would want to hear more from her low-income constituents to further learn what they need and how they might be able to benefit from being connected with organizations throughout the state.

What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?

Dolan started by saying that childcare would be one of her “top priorities” if elected to the House of Representatives.

“As a working parent, I understand firsthand the need of making sure you have access to reliable childcare in order to be in the workforce, but also to make sure your children have a safe place to go while you're at work,” said Dolan.

Dolan thinks the state needs to better work with organizations, such as Let’s Grow Kids, to assist families in connecting with quality, affordable childcare options. She added that there may be a cost associated with the work -- such as training employees and administrators of the industry and providing a livable wage and benefits to those employees -- but it’s necessary and would be part of an “investment” into the state’s childcare system.

A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?

Dolan thinks the state should look into both prioritized spending and ways to bring in new revenue. She also said that there will need to be a good deal of reevaluation of the state’s finances moving forward, noting that a “second wave” of virus outbreaks could result Governor Phil Scott started to close the “spigot” that he’s referred to while reopening the state.

“If things take a turn where we really need to be in an emergency response mode, then we need to be prioritizing on health care, education, childcare, general utilities, and some of these core sectors that we have,” said Dolan. “We need to make sure that folks are able to make it through -- that they're having their basic needs met.”

Dolan believes that type of response could certainly lead to cuts, naming transportation and the corrections system as potential areas where those cuts could be made -- an example for the latter being that the state could be less strict on what it sends parole violators back to prison for.

For revenue, Dolan said Vermont should be active in seeking federal stimulus and possibly look into an “incremental, progressive tax shift.” She added, “It's not something I would do lightly, but it's something that we need to explore depending on where the situation is at.”

What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?

Dolan believes education needs to be prioritized and that it is “essential” to the state’s recovery efforts, as well as the futures of children and families.

“This is where things are going to have some really tough decisions and conversations going forward, and I think that's one of the skills I bring to the table,” said Dolan.

Dolan believes that the state should work to bring different voices together to come up with creative ideas and cost-effective solutions. A recent, local example of that which she noted was the free childcare option being provided for the days kids are learning remotely through collaboration with Essex Junction Recreation & Parks.

“I think it's that willingness to bring people together and say, ‘We don't have to go back to how it was; we don't have to do things the same way. Let's come together with discussion and explore what's possible,’” said Dolan.

The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?

Dolan believes that it was an important first step but also that there’s always going to be more that needs to be done. She thinks there should be a “critical lens” used while making sure that racial justice is part of every discussion, “whether it's criminal justice, law enforcement, education, or health care.”

Dolan said there should be diverse voices involved in discussing and making decisions about systemic factors that come into play and lead to inequities.

“Our systems that are in place, and have been in place for many years, are likely oppressing many different groups -- not intentionally, but just in how they were created,” said Dolan. “We need to be open to hearing about them and being open to addressing that in whatever ways come up.”

Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. Vermont is also starting to see the impacts of a changing climate firsthand, with shorter winters, harsher storms and so-called “climigration.” What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?

Dolan said one of the first steps should be evaluating the systems in Vermont and seeing what their impact on the environment is. She thinks part of that evaluation could include conversation and an assessment of what the state is choosing to incentivize, tax, and create grants for.

Dolan admitted that climate change isn’t an area that she has “extensive knowledge” of and would require her to seek out information and recommendations from organizations and groups better versed in it. She added that, while the legislature will be faced with a number of issues that she sees as additional priorities, climate change needs to be critically looked at in the next session.

“That's the hard thing that's going to be coming into this next biennium,” said Dolan. “There are a lot of things that need to be at the top of the list, and we're going to need to come together to figure out some solutions… they might not be perfect solutions for all this, but we need to start somewhere; we need to start getting the work done.”

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