Vt. religious activists call for social reform

MONTPELIER — The Rev. Debbie Ingram says Vermont’s liberal religious activists have been quiet for too long, focusing their energies on running soup kitchens and food pantries for those in need — a reaction to the conditions the poor see every day.

Now, she says, it is time to turn up the volume, turn up the heat on lawmakers, and push for a moral economy, which would tax the wealthy more and improve pay and benefits for the working poor.

‘‘We’ve been getting a little frustrated with never having our values influence the actual systems that put people in those situations where they have to come to us for charity,’’ said Ingram, the executive director of the Vermont Interfaith Action group.


Vermont Interfaith Action, including clergy members from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, and Unitarian congregations, gathered for a series of meetings during the summer to draft recommendations into a booklet replete with passages from the Old and New Testaments and the Quran.

Since the November election, the religious leaders have held a new series of meetings with legislators around the state to share their ideas. One goal, they say: Close the gap in which the minimum wage often does not come close to paying the rent.

‘‘Champlain Housing Trust asserts that the statewide housing wage — which is the amount a renter needs to earn in order to afford a two-bedroom, fair-market rent — is $19.36 per hour,’’ the booklet says. ‘‘A minimum wage of about half that amount creates a situation in which housing makes up more than 50 percent of a worker’s earnings, which in turn means that there are insufficient household funds to pay for other family necessities, one of the primary reasons families remain in generational poverty.’’

Other proposals include making Vermont’s income tax, already among the most progressive in the nation, more so; ensuring Vermonters have good health coverage; and strengthening environmental protections.


But the group’s goals may remain elusive in a year when big Democratic majorities in the Legislature were trimmed somewhat, Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, barely won reelection, and a budget deficit was estimated at $100 million.