I believe one of my roles as a parent is to teach my son to use his voice – to advocate for himself and for others. I encourage all Village Voters to use your Vote as your Voice on April 13th.
We are all tired of voting and the rhetoric that has surrounded this particular vote, but now is not the time to remain silent. Our community and state leaders need to see that we are all engaged in making decisions for our future. A high voter turnout is essential for what happens next.
I urge those who have not voted yet and who have questions on any ballot articles to seek out reliable sources for information. I recommend www.greateressex2020.org for merger information, the Village Annual Report at www.essexjunction.org for information on the Village municipal items and www.ewsd.org for the school related items.
Please take the time to read and vote on the articles on both sides of the ballot.
Rep. Dolan and I provided our opinion on the Plan of Merger and you can find our statement at www.lorihoughton.com.
Ballots must be returned to the town office ballot box by Monday April 12th or directly to the Essex High School polling location on Tuesday April 13th for your vote to be counted.
Please reach out to Rep. Dolan or I with questions. Our contact information is: firstname.lastname@example.org or KNDolan@leg.state.vt.us.
Impacts of the American Rescue Plan Act on Health Insurance:
The House Health Care Committee received updates over the past two weeks on the health insurance changes for 2021 and 2022 in The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law on March 11th. If you purchase through Vermont Health Connect and have made too much money to receive financial help in the past, you may be able to receive financial help this year. Vermonters who receive premium tax credits will likely receive higher amounts, so your monthly bill from Vermont Health Connect may go down. You can also choose to get the entire tax credit when you file federal taxes. Details are still being worked out but the latest information including how to apply, financial help estimates, and updates for Vermonters who got unemployment benefits in 2021 can be found at INFO.HEALTHCONNECT.VERMONT.GOV/ARPA. To get financial help, Vermonters must enroll in health insurance through Vermont Health Connect. If you currently purchase health insurance directly through an insurance carrier, like BCBS or MVP, the parties are working on a process to help customers switch to Vermont Health Connect if they would like to. Information about this process will be posted to the above webpage as it becomes available.
Also remember, now through May 14, 2021 Vermonters without health insurance have a special enrollment period to get Vermont Health Connect coverage.
Bills passed by the House:
The House approved an amended version of H.315, a mid-session COVID recovery bill, on a roll-call vote of 141-5. H315 allocates $97.5 million in federal stimulus funds to support businesses, schools, housing, workforce development, broadband and more. The bill represents a close collaboration between the House and Senate to provide timely economic relief to Vermonters in all 14 counties, relying primarily on federal COVID-19 stimulus funds. Highlights include:
• $15 million to help schools improve indoor air quality; $5.5 million for summer meals for families; $4 million for afterschool and summer programs.
• $10.5 million in Economic Recovery Bridge Grants, primarily for businesses impacted by COVID-19 that have not received any prior state or federal COVID-related aid.
• $10 million to support community initiatives to strengthen the outdoor recreation economy, and to improve access to public outdoor recreation areas such as trail heads, boat launches and state parks.
• $10 million to provide safe shelter and housing for low-income and at-risk Vermonters; $5 million to stabilize low- and moderate-income homeowners and prevent foreclosures.
• $8.2 million to the Vermont State Colleges, UVM and VSAC to provide up to two free classes to adult Vermonters looking to boost job skills or change careers, to provide up to two free classes to all 2020 and 2021 high-school grads, and to train more LPNs.
• $4 million to make mental health services more accessible; and $1.3 million to support ReachUp families.
• Plus allocations for working lands, broadband, environmental clean-up, and New Americans and immigrants.
Finally, H.315 also includes some tax language. For the tax year 2020 only, we are allowing the federal exclusion on the first $10,200 of unemployment insurance income from a taxpayer’s gross income, so long as that taxpayer’s adjusted gross income is less than $150,000. For businesses, it also carries through the 2020 federal treatment of Payroll Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans as exempt from taxation. PPP loans converted to grants in 2021 will be treated like any other business income and subject to tax.
The bill returns to the Senate with a proposed amendment; and then heads to the Governor for hopeful signature.
H225 an act that decriminalizes small quantities of non-prescription buprenorphine was passed with a roll call vote of 126-19 in favor. Under current law, the possession of small amounts of "street bupe" is a misdemeanor in Vermont statute. H.25 lifts the penalty for 224 milligrams or less (a 1-2 week supply). Why was this passed? Some Vermonters use non-prescribed buprenorphine as a step before coming into Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) under the care of a doctor. MAT is the gold standard, the evidence-based treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder. While possession of a small supply of non-prescribed buprenorphine is rarely prosecuted in Vermont, this legislation will provide clarity and equity across all 14 counties. For those under age 21, H.225 also aligns the statute for buprenorphine with that of cannabis and alcohol. Youth under 16 years of age stay within the court’s family division, while youth 16-21 years of age are cited with a civil violation. Opioid use disorder continues to be a public health crisis in Vermont. During this COVID-19 pandemic, the state has seen a 38 percent increase in overdoses. This legislation will save lives.
Please continue wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing physical distancing.
If you or someone you know needs help during this difficult time, please reach out to Representative Dolan or I and we will do our best to connect you with appropriate services. Contact us at email@example.com or KNDolan@leg.state.vt.us.
Be kind to each other and yourself.
Rep. Lori Houghton