COVID case counts are at record highs and childcare centers, hospitals, schools, and many others are working tirelessly to keep Vermonters safe. Please continue to be kind to each other and establish your own self-care techniques. If you are sick, please stay home. I encourage Vermonters who are not vaccinated to please talk with your provider.
The 2022 legislative session is underway and all committees and floor action have live streaming and are recorded for later viewing on YouTube. Agendas and streaming links are available on all committee pages at https://legislature.vermont.gov/
I know this continues to be a difficult time. Please reach out to me or Rep. Dolan with questions, concerns, and ideas. Contact information: Rep. Lori Houghton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Rep. Karen Dolan (email@example.com).
ESSEX INDEPENDENCE UPDATE
H.491 an act relating to the creation of the City of Essex Junction was introduced and assigned to the House Government Operations committee on Friday. This committee has a full plate right now with redistricting. Rep. Dolan and I will let the community know when testimony is scheduled.
We began week 1 of the legislative session at a runner’s pace (a fast runner!) sending S. 172 an act relating to authorizing alternative procedures for 2022 annual municipal meetings in response to COVID-19 to the Governor. Policy committees began taking testimony on the Governor’s budget adjustment. This is the FY2022 mid-year budget adjustment of existing programs - an opportunity to attend to urgent needs that cannot wait for the next year’s budget.
HEALTH CARE COMMITTEE UPDATE
Two items of note in the Health Care Committee’s purview related to budget adjustment are 1) an increase for recruitment and retention purposes within the Department of Mental Health and 2) an increase to support Medicaid reimbursements for Primary Care Providers.
While we support the increases for Department of Mental Health front line workers, we were frustrated that the administration did not also provide for recruitment and retention bonuses for the 5,000+ workers in our Designated and Specialist Services Agencies, think Howard Center, school-based clinicians and Pathways as three examples. Our committee heard testimony on a proposal that would provide the same retention bonuses to this group of front line workers. We are supportive of both packages. During our discussion there was broad agreement that this is only a small step. We must find a funding mechanism to ensure the sustainability of our mental health system. I’ve heard from many who all say, “I have never seen it this bad.”
We have not yet taken a vote on the increase to support Medicaid reimbursements; however, I believe this increase is vital to support our providers.
Our committee also joined with the Senate Health and Welfare committee in hearing testimony on Act 6 of 2020 which extended COVID-19 emergency provisions related to telehealth and extended health care regulatory flexibility during COVD-19 through March 2022. We know there is a strong need to continue most of the provisions, especially ensuring Vermonters maintain access to their telehealth providers. We will continue this testimony this coming week as we must act fast to maintain continuity for Vermonters and our health care system.
AFFORDABLE INTERNET CONNECTIVITY PROGRAM
Recently Congress created the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, a $14 billion program, which replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. This investment in broadband affordability will help people get the internet connections they need for work, school, health care and much more. The program provides eligible households with a discount on broadband service and connected devices. This program provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward the internet for eligible households and up to $75 per month for homes on qualifying Tribal lands. Learn if you qualify for the program and how to apply here: ACPBenefit.org
AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN INVESTMENTS
Join VT Council on Rural Development January 14th at 10:30AM for an online workshop designed to help interested Vermonters understand the different parameters for spending ARPA funds. The workshop will include a conversation with local leaders of The Vermont League of Cities & Towns, as well as tips on how to most effectively work with other community members, potential partners, and the municipality to achieve desired outcomes. To register and learn more visit https://www.vtrural.org/leadership/workshops
ESSEX DELEGATION COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Please join us during the legislative session for monthly updates on bills, committee work, caucus activities and more. We welcome your concerns, questions, and a spirit of open, respectful dialogue. Our next conversation will be Sunday January 23rd from 2 to 3:30pm. A zoom link will be accessible on Front Porch Forum, Facebook and via email a few days before the date.