One thing I know from growing up in Vermont is that neighbors help each other. While caring for your neighbor may be a rarity now in other parts of the country, it's alive and well here in Vermont. When my own neighbor had a chimney fire a few winters back, the community immediately put on a drive to provide for the family: professional clothes to get the mom through work on Monday and clothes, books and toys for the kids. Their young beagle spent a few days in my home while the family figured out their next steps. Everyone did a little, and it added up to a lot for one family.
I'm the Democratic Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, but first and foremost, I'm a mother, wife, business owner, and a teacher who understands firsthand that being a Vermonter means caring for your neighbor. Vermont is what it is because we look out for our each other. This community of caring is why we raised the minimum wage January 1st, why we support universal preschool, why we help our neighbors weatherize their homes to save on fuel costs, and why we have first time home buyers assistance. We believe that Vermont has a vibrant and prosperous future, and we are committed to a state that can make this happen. I'm proud of the progress we've made and look forward to what has yet to be accomplished.
The people of Vermont have access to health care. Opportunities that were created by the legislature and the affordable care act have allowed our neighbors and small business owners to access health coverage for the first time. Farmers, carpenters, and small business owners no longer have to make the choice between feeding their families and paying their medical bills. Because health care is vital for our neighbors, our state Medicaid budget has to grapple with the rising cost of health care the same way my family does. Too often, the debate makes this sound like a very simple issue, we just have to cut the spending. I say, it is important to understand how many of our friends and neighbors are helped by Medicaid. Our investments have resulted in Vermont being ranked as one of the healthiest states, and give us one of the lowest uninsured rates in the country. As Democrats, we believe that our neighbors and small business owners represent vital parts of Vermont, and we refuse to turn our backs on them.
Our students are the future leaders of this state, and last year we came together with our colleagues from all sides of the aisle to strengthen our schools and equip them to meet the challenges of a declining population. We must protect the quality of education for our children, while helping our schools find ways to make their dollar do more. We've heard from school districts around the state that the cost containment measures we put in place last year have been causing unintended consequences, and we are taking testimony from Vermonters to determine the best path for us all to move forward. We took significant steps in 2015 to stand by our promise of providing a high quality education to children from all corners of Vermont.
Vermonters spoke, we listened. Vermonters asked us to make the state more affordable for the little guy. Too many Vermont families are trying to stand on their own by working long hours or taking on multiple jobs, but are still unable to pay their bills. This is a real problem, and we owe it to our residents to address this. Shame on those who would turn their backs on these Vermonters in order to score cheap political points and suggesting we should instead offer affordability for wealthy corporations. As we develop the budget this year, we will be investing in programs that are working well for the Vermonters they serve. We're focusing on Vermonters and their needs. We're taking more steps than ever to ensure that the budget process is inclusive and that our Vermont values are a priority.
In a state where you know if you slide off the road, your neighbor will be there to pull you out of the ditch, we have a commitment to help every Vermonter strengthen their footing on solid ground. We are committed to providing Vermonters access to a prosperous future, to a future where every Vermonter has a chance. I'm proud of the progress we've made, and I'm looking forward to continuing this work this session.
Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas of Bradford is the Democratic House Majority Leader and owner of The Local Buzz Cafe.