The House adjourned Friday evening after an extended session trying to manage the fallout of COVID-19. This has been an extremely challenging time for Vermonters, and I know many Essex residents have faced hardships. Over the past several months the House moved nearly $1 billion worth of federal aid to Vermont communities and organizations. Unfortunately federal rules prohibited many of the direct to Vermont consumer programs we attempted to fund. Below is a sample list of organizations and programs that will receive this needed funding:
Our healthcare and economic emergencies are not the only emergencies we must address. Vermonters care deeply about justice and equality, and in this time of national outcry for racial justice I am hearing this loudly and clearly from Vermonters. To dismantle systemic racism and centuries of oppression, we must work both individually to educate ourselves and collectively to transform institutions - every Vermonter has an important role in this. Likewise in the Legislature, addressing systemic racism falls within the jurisdiction of every single committee in this body, and we are eyeing our past, present and future policymaking using this expansive lens. Friday we passed S219 - addressing racial bias and excessive use of force by law enforcement. This one single bill will never be a cure-all for systemic racism, but it is the first of many steps that must be taken methodically and continually.
Although the legislative body has recessed until August 25th, our work is not done. I will continue working this summer to ensure our neighbors, businesses, and workers have the resources they need. Do not hesitate to contact either of me. I’m available at Houghton.firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-373-0599.
As I’m sure readers have heard, the Governor announced new guidance for indoor dining and an easing of travel restrictions to some parts of New England - both to begin June 8th. He also announced the resumption of driver’s license tests and learner’s permits as DMV begins opening limited services.
We must remember that Coronavirus still exists and continuing to take simple precautions will maintain our progress in staying healthy – make wearing a cloth face mask a habit when you leave your home, wash your hands often and continue physical distancing. It’s great to see everyone outside enjoying this wonderful weather while being vigilant against the disease. I enjoyed walking through the senior portraits at the Five Corners. It was inspiring to see the faces of those who’ve worked so hard to graduate to now be moving on to their next adventure. Congratulations EWSD Seniors!
It has been a busy few weeks on the virtual house floor. The House passed legislation that keeps our buildings operating, our infrastructure moving forward and gave preliminary passage to a 1st quarter 2021 fiscal year budget (final vote is Tuesday). H961 is a steady anchor budget for Vermonters, containing specific appropriations and levels of spending authority designed to maintain the basic functions of government while making no change to established or statutorily mandated programs and policies. Those important decisions will be completed with the full fiscal year budget process in August and September after the establishment of new official State revenue forecasts.
H961 contains three backstops in the event of unforeseen spending needs: the ability for funds to be moved around within a department as well as the option to present the need to the Emergency Board or the Joint Fiscal Committee. The bill also funds our debt service and retirement obligations. H961 appropriates $47.3 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund in several areas including UVM and the Vermont State Colleges, VSAC, different components of the judicial system, Working Lands, and State Parks, as examples. Emergency Medical Ambulance services are also allocated additional funding.
The vote was 142-5 and the full bill can be found here:
Upcoming on the virtual house floor is Vote by Mail legislation that will allow for a ballot to be mailed to every voter. Not knowing what will happen with Coronavirus between now and election time, we need to take responsible action to address the health and safety of voters as well as those staffing our polling places. Unfortunately due to contracts with vendors, procurement of supplies, training of staff and voter education, we must make the decision now to have a safe system in place for November. Essex had a successful vote by mail experience, let your representatives know you want the same for the general election.
Legislative Committee Work
All committees are now in the process of determining the allocation of Coronavirus Relief Funds with final policy proposals due mid-week. My committee, healthcare, is starting from a place of deep appreciation for our healthcare workers and system. These dedicated workers stood up our healthcare response system and saved lives. Thank you!
In this legislative update, rather than focus on Statehouse activity, I will focus on food security. We have all seen, with many of us in, the long lines at Food Box distribution sites. I’ve talked with people associated with food shelves throughout the state. Many are not seeing increased requests within their food shelves that would be expected based on the long lines at the distribution sites. Also numbers for many of the school distribution sites across the state have dropped off. Yet we know we have increased need. We need to understand why people may decide not to access local food assistance sources. Any thoughts and ideas on the issues or how the systems could be changed to serve more people, please email me. email@example.com.
The following provides locations and programs offering food assistance:
EWSD’s Child Nutrition Food Services provides free breakfast and lunch for all youth 18 and under through at least June 30th. Children do not need to be in the car. Pick up as many meals as are needed at any of the below locations Monday through Friday:
ADL - 104 Maple St - 8am to 10am, Essex Elementary School - 1 Bixby Hill Road - 9am to 11am, Westford School - 146 Brookside Road - 10 am to Noon .
Aunt Dot’s Place located at 51 Center Road is providing pre-packaged boxes of food delivered to your car. Hours are Tuesday 6pm to 7:30pm; Thursday 9am to 11am; Saturday 9am to 11am. Contact information is www.auntdotsplace.com or 802-857-8208.
Heavenly Food Pantry located at 39 Main St is providing pre-packaged food boxes delivered to your car. Hours are the 2nd Monday of the Month 5:30 to 7:30pm and the 4th Thursday of the month 2pm to 6pm. June dates are June 8th and June 25th.
3Squares - You or your household may be eligible for 3SquaresVT, a federal food program that helps Vermonters purchase food at most grocery stores, convenience stores, farmers' markets, and co-ops. To learn more and find out if you qualify for 3SquaresVT visit: https://www.hungerfreevt.org/covid-19squaresvt.
3Squares members will see an automatic increase in their June benefits. If a household is eligible in May 2020, the added benefit is available June 16th by direct deposit or when the check arrives. A member doesn’t need to do anything to receive the increased benefit.
Vermont is now offering 3Squares online purchasing so Vermonters can buy eligible food items online with two retailers. This ensures a safe method for buying food during our current health crisis. More information at https://dcf.vermont.gov/benefits/EBT/Online
P-EBT is a new resource providing money to purchase groceries to families with kids who would be accessing free school meals if school wasn't closed. Many families have already been notified that they qualify and will be receiving P-EBT soon. Households already enrolled in 3SquaresVT will have P-EBT loaded on the card they already have. Other households will get a EBT card in the mail, similar to a debit card, that can be used at most food retailers. All families with school-aged kids are encouraged to apply to see if they qualify for P-EBT. More info here: https://dcf.vermont.gov/esd/covid19
Back to legislative news, the body continues to meet with our focus on COVID related bills and the need to pass a first quarter budget. This week we passed our Capital Bill with the Transportation bill passing second reading. In the healthcare committee we are reviewing emergency legislation passed in March to determine what policy changes need to continue past the end of the emergency declaration. Our committee will quickly pivot to establishing a plan for dollars allocated in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to ensure we are protecting the health of Vermonters and the sustainability of our healthcare system.
Please continue to be well and reach out if I can answer questions or be of any assistance.