Vermont weather is always a source of conversation and it has not disappointed so far in April but I am hopeful we have finally turned the corner to spring. We are also turning the corner in the legislative session and are seeing the end draw near. You can follow and watch the work by streaming Vermont House of Representatives - YouTube.
Rep. Dolan and I look forward to hearing from residents so please do not hesitate to reach out with opportunities, concerns, or questions. Our contact information is: firstname.lastname@example.org or KNDolan@leg.state.vt.us.
MAY 4TH LEGISLATIVE PUBLIC HEARING ON UI
On Tuesday, May 4, 2021 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development and the House Committee on Government Operations will hold a joint public hearing to listen to employees and employers in Vermont about the issues faced with unemployment insurance during the COVID pandemic.
The public is invited to register to speak at the hearing or submit written testimony. Registrations will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, and testimony time will be limited to two minutes per person. To register as a speaker at the hearing, please sign up here: https://legislature.vermont.gov/links/public-hearing-unemployment
To submit written testimony, please email an MS Word or PDF file to email@example.com
The hearing will be live streamed on the Legislature's Joint Committees YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUSAo8mdI5WQ1DseraqKCWg/featured
RESTAURANT REVITALIZATION FUND & GUIDELINES ANNOUNCED
The Small Business Administration announced key details about application requirements, eligibility and a program guide for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The restaurant industry has been among the hardest-hit sectors during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help bring jobs back and revive the industry, the American Rescue Plan has established the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund. The SBA will administer the funds to the hardest-hit restaurants.
RRF will provide restaurants with funding equal to their pandemic-related revenue loss up to $10 million per business and no more than $5 million per physical location. Recipients are not required to repay the funding if funds are used for eligible uses no later than March 11, 2023.
Details about application requirements, eligibility, and a program guide are now available in English at www.sba.gov/restaurants or in Spanish at www.sba.gov/restaurantes.
The Vermont House passed H.265 which creates an independent, impartial office composed of an Advocate and Deputy Advocate whose job it is to provide oversight of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and to promote effective reforms that prioritize the best interests of children.
The Department of Children and Families holds a massive responsibility to provide compassionate care, services and interventions for hundreds of children and youth in their custody, including those participating in therapeutic programs that span eight states. The Child, Youth & Family Advocate will work in collaboration with state agencies and contracted agencies to ensure that evidence-based best practices are employed, that youth transition successfully to adulthood, that racial and social equity are prioritized across systems, and that investigations are conducted with an eye towards systemic reform. Vermont has been the only state in New England without an office of this kind, one of the fastest growing areas of state government. This bill now heads to the Senate.
HOUSE HEALTH CARE COMMITTEE UPDATE
We heard testimony on Vermont children’s mental health, specifically to grapple with documented trends in emergency department mental health service wait-times. Patient boarding is when a person remains in the emergency department after it has been determined they need inpatient care but have not yet been transferred or admitted to a designated inpatient mental health unit. According to testimony from Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems as of Thursday, April 15th, at noon, six people waiting for admission to psychiatric inpatient care were children. Four children had been waiting between 1-6 days and two children had been waiting 7 or more days. A confluence of reduced bed capacity by 30%, dramatic possibly seasonal uptick in emergent cases, and reduction in community-based services, have served to create a distressing scenario – for both children and adults. We are scheduled to hear more next week with the focus on short-, medium- and long-range fixes to address this dire problem.
NEXT COMMUNITY CONVERSATION W/HOUSE DELEGATION
Sat., May 8, 9-10:30 am
We will post a Zoom link a few days before. Please join us for a respectful, civil community conversation about what's happening in the virtual State House!
Be kind to each other and yourself.
We know we are not alone in our disappointment with the outcome of the merger vote. We also know we are not alone in our heartfelt gratitude for the work of our municipal leaders and community members who gave so much of their personal time to the effort of bringing our communities together. We appreciate the level of civil dialogue and engagement in the Village.
Now we take a collective breath before turning our attention once again to the future of our amazing community. It is important that we continue to support and listen to each other while holding our Village values close. A significant majority of Village voters want the Trustees to begin moving us towards a new Village charter as a standalone community. The conversation starts tonight at the Village Trustee meeting. This work will not be easy or quick and will require all of us to stay active in the conversation at the same time practicing patience for the necessary process.
As your state representatives our role is to carry the will of the voters through the legislative process. We are committed to our role and the work of our community. We will stay in contact with the Village Trustees and are available for conversations with community members.
We are proud to call all of you our neighbors and Essex Junction our home.
Rep. Karen Dolan and Rep. Lori Houghton
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
Village Annual Meeting ballots are arriving in the mail alongside opinion pieces on the Plan of Merger. We urge every voter who has questions on any ballot articles to seek out reliable sources for information. We 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.
We miss Village Annual Meeting. Sharing a community dinner while talking about local issues and catching up with neighbors is one of the many things that make our Village special. We are missing this opportunity to engage in person on the important issues in front of us, but the use of mail-in ballots does ensure all voters who want to vote can do so easily. Although all our social media outlets are engaged in talks of merger and separation – this voting opportunity is also about the Village and EWSD municipal budgets; Trustee, Moderator, Library, and School Board elections; as well as other important municipal items. Please take the time to read and vote on the articles on both sides of the ballot.
We do support the current Plan of Merger of the Town of Essex and the Village of Essex Junction into one new community that will value the unique identities of our various neighborhoods while ensuring we have the focus and resources for future opportunities and challenges. Over 70% of Village voters supported merger in the November 2020 election and over 80% in the March election. And yes, we are frustrated that we are voting again. But this is democracy in action. Due to a mere 19 vote difference in the March vote residents worked within the statutory framework for a reconsideration vote. We support their efforts and encourage everyone to vote. This question is found at the bottom of the ballot under Special Meeting Town of Essex, VT Article 1.
We also support the Village Article 6 which is a non-binding resolution directing the Trustees to create a charter for an independent City of Essex Junction – or in other words a charter to separate from the Town of Essex – if the Plan of Merger fails. We have heard from numerous residents that the status quo is not acceptable and if merger doesn't pass, they want a clear path for change. Conversations about our combined or separate futures have occurred over decades. The conversation that led to this Plan of Merger consideration started over 3 years ago. Although we want the Plan of Merger to pass, we know the Village will need to begin focusing their efforts on its own future challenges and opportunities if it fails. Sending a substantial amount of our tax revenues to services that are duplicative to ones in our own community is not sustainable.
But we need to be clear – separation is not guaranteed. Trustees and community members will need to work diligently to craft a new charter. Then another Village community wide vote will need to occur. Finally, the Legislature would need to approve the charter passed by our community. Each step will encounter tough decisions and hurdles that may not be overcome. While merger provides a clear path to efficiency, transparency, and immediate action.
Community member’s perspectives on merger are as vast as our beautiful mountainsides. Here we provide our perspective: many years ago, Heart and Soul of Essex discovered that the Town of Essex and Village of Essex Junction residents possess a clear set of shared values – Education, Community Connections, Safety, Thoughtful Growth, Health and Recreation and Local Economy. We believe these values hold true today and that the commitment to make Essex the best it can be runs deep. We will strengthen these values with the passage of our current merger plan that provides tax equity and fair representation. We will strengthen these values as we forge a new path forward holding strong to what makes us each special while uniting behind one vision.
Rep. Karen Dolan
Rep. Lori Houghton