Legislators ensure voter access, Senate district may split in two

It is often said that your vote is your voice.

Participation in our democracy by voting is the backbone of our country and we are stronger when more people vote. Across the United States, voting rights are currently under attack. Sixteen states have enacted laws to make it harder to vote by mail and eight states have made it harder to vote in person by enacting voter ID laws, outlawing same day registration and eliminating polling places altogether.

Vermont, on the other hand, has thankfully taken a different path.

Universal vote-by-mail was a great success during the 2020 General Election, contributing to record turnout even during a pandemic — a 74 percent participation rate. It expanded voter access and encouraged increased participation in our democratic process. Vermonters asked legislators to build on that success, and we listened.

S.15 (Act 60) continues the vote-by-mail program, adds in other important election measures, and counters the prevailing trend across the U.S. where state legislatures are curtailing voter access with more restrictive election laws. Effective this coming November, new features will include ballots with postage-paid return envelopes mailed to all active registered voters; voters may cure defective ballots if, for example, they forgot to sign the certificate envelope; access to secure ballot drop boxes that are accessible 24/7 for voters to return their ballots; and a limit on the number of ballots someone can deliver on behalf of others.

During last week’s veto session, both the House and Senate voted to override the Gov. Phil Scott’s vetoes of H.227, Winooski charter changes, and H.177, changes to the Montpelier charter.

These two charter changes expand voting rights to legal green card residents of these two communities to local — not statewide or federal — issues. In Winooski, they will be able to vote on municipal and school ballots. Since Montpelier does not have its own high school, they will be able to vote on municipal issues only.

It takes a vote of two-thirds of the legislative members present to override a veto and for these votes all members were present on Zoom in the respective chambers, 150 in the House and 30 senators. The results of these votes honor the decisions voted on, and strongly supported, by the voters in Winooski and Montpelier.

With the passage of the three bills summarized above, voting becomes even more accessible for those Vermonters who may otherwise be left out.

Redistricting underway

Every 10 years, the U.S. Constitution calls for a nationwide census and reapportionment process. In addition, the Vermont Constitution requires the Vermont General Assembly to be periodically reapportioned. Reapportionment involves the review and re-drawing of legislative districts to ensure that Vermont’s citizens have equal representation in the General Assembly in accordance with the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ensures that any population changes are reflected in legislative districts to maintain equal representation.

While Vermont doesn’t have a big job with our single U.S. Congressional district, state legislative districts will have to be aligned with any population shifts. While some House districts may be affected by a move away from multiple-member districts, South Burlington already has four single districts.

The current state population sets the suggested number of constituents per House district at 4,200. Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that will limit any Senate district to no more than three members. This will require a change, or division, for Chittenden County from one district with its six senators to, at minimum, two districts.

The secretary of state’s website has a map with some preliminary looks at reapportionment. Some districts are not meeting the 4,200 threshhold, while others have increased.

Continue to connect with me on these or other actions that the Legislature took this year. I look forward to speaking with you. If I don’t see you before, I hope to see you at the next SoBo Nite Out held every Thursday this summer from 5-8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street.

Lawmakers make substantive progress to address racial, social inequities

Much of this legislative session focused on creating an equitable plan for recovery from the pandemic that invests in people and leaves no Vermonter behind. As part of that work, legislators embraced their responsibility to address racial disparities and began course-correcting the historical impacts of racism and social inequality.

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the severe inequities in public health systems. For example, while Black residents comprise only 1 percent of Vermont’s population, they accounted for almost 5 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases in 2020. Highlighting a strong body of evidence, J.R.H.6 acknowledges systemic racism as a direct cause of the adverse health outcomes experienced by people of color in Vermont.https://ffcc7a27446b95fbdf5bfd3a5c782489.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

It also commits us to the “sustained and deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the state, actively fighting racist practices, and participating in the creation of more just and equitable systems.” It was drafted through the collaboration of impacted communities and gained the broad support of the Legislature and the Vermont Department of Health.

H. 210 creates a Health Equity Advisory Commission made up primarily of Vermonters whose lives have been impacted by historic inequitable treatment in accessing health care, while empowering their voices to develop an Office of Health Equity by no later than Jan. 1, 2023.

H.430 provides immediate increased access to health care for income-eligible pregnant women and children, regardless of their immigration status, by establishing a Dr. Dynasaur-like health care program. This coverage begins on July 1.

These undocumented women and children often work or live with their families on the farms and dairies that are essential to Vermont’s economy. Because of fear regarding immigration status being revealed, confidentiality is critical. We know that prenatal care and medical care in childhood can improve health outcomes over a lifetime, as well as reduce costs for both education and health care systems.

H.159 invests $150,000 in a process to be driven by communities of color and may include the creation of a minority business development center or authority. This legislation will also provide technical support for businesses owned by people of color in procurement of state contracts, improve language access and cultural competency practices within state economic development programs, and strengthen state data collection to better serve the variety of identities represented within the these communities.https://ffcc7a27446b95fbdf5bfd3a5c782489.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

J.R H.2 acknowledges and apologizes for sanctioning and supporting eugenics policies and practices through legislation that led to forced family separation, sterilization, incarceration and institutionalization for hundreds of Vermonters. These policies targeted the poor and people with mental and physical disabilities, as well as individuals, families and communities whose heritage was documented as French Canadian, French-Indian, or other mixed ethnic or racial composition, and persons whose extended families’ successor generations now identify as Abenaki or as members of other Indigenous bands or tribes.

The resolution recognizes further legislative action should be taken to address the continuing impacts of eugenics policies and the related practices of disenfranchisement, ethnocide and genocide.

Another of the glaring needs identified was bolstering personnel at the state’s Office of Racial Equity. When this office was created, the Legislature didn’t know the extent of how widely these services would be used and requested. The workload has continued to grow, with the director being flooded by requests to sit on committees and boards, meet with Vermonters, review policies and offer expertise to all three branches of state government.

It became clear that the needs of the office were far greater than one person could handle. To help, two positions were included in the budget, effective in the new fiscal year, July 1.

As with so much of our work, the above described actions are just part of the ongoing effort to create equitable systems that promote justice, dignity and health for all Vermonters.

May 21 marked the adjournment of the 2021 legislative session as well as UVM graduation. For the first time in close to 14 months I will not be waking up in the morning and sitting in front of my computer for often more than eight hours of remote meetings or classes.

I am looking forward to seeing my friends and neighbors on the bike path, at the Thursday night food trucks at Veterans Memorial Park on Dorset Street or at one of our local stores. While the session has ended, know that I am still available to answer questions, help you connect with resources, and listen to your priorities. Reach me at apugh@leg.state.vt.us, 802-863-6705, or by mail, 67 Bayberry Lane.

South Burlington lawmakers reflect on historic session

South Burlington legislators logged off the 2021 legislative session last Friday after finalizing a $7.3 billion budget and sending a stack of bills to Gov. Phil Scott’s desk to sign.

House and Senate committees tuned in to work virtually from day one, marking a historical pandemic-era session even as the state eases COVID-19 restrictions and inches closer to “normal.”

South Burlington lawmakers, including representatives Martin LaLonde, Ann Pugh, John Killacky and Maida Townsend, and Sen. Thomas Chittenden, hopped back on Zoom to give South Burlington residents a recap of their work and preview of what to keep an eye on moving into a potential veto session this summer.

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D, district 7-1)

Rep. Martin LaLonde (D, district 7-1)

• Bill S.3 sets up a notification system for when individuals with mental health issues, classified as a danger to themselves or others, are discharged from the Department of Mental Health back into the community — people who’ve been harmed by those individuals are notified.

“Until this law gets put into place … the victims are not notified and can run into an individual in the community” by surprise, said LaLonde, which can be harmful to both individuals. The bill also comes with a study to examine numerous issues in how mental health interacts with criminal justice system.

Rep. Ann Pugh (D, district 7-2)

• The Human Services Committee passed a bill prohibiting forever chemicals from consumer products, which Pugh said is a significant step in preventing future harm from toxic chemicals. “Rather than limiting our solutions to downstream cleanup, we addressed the issue to upstream by preventing these toxic chemicals from entering our state,” she said.

• A bill breaking down some barriers to rehabilitation for opioid addiction, specifically related to buprenorphine, passed “on strong votes” from both the House and Senate, Pugh added.

“What folks may not know is, with 157 opioid related deaths, 2020 was one of Vermont’s deadliest years for an overdose. And in 2020, we saw more deaths by overdose than we did deaths by COVID,” she said.

Buprenorphine is one method of helping people become clean and sober, said Pugh. The bill reduces criminal penalties for someone who has less than a two-week supply of non-prescribed buprenorphine. “This is something that will save lives, encourage them to seek safer alternatives and get into treatment,” she said.

• Last, Pugh worked on identifying racism as a public health emergency. “The COVID-19 pandemic magnified the severe inequalities in our public health systems,” she said. Both the House and Senate passed the resolution.

Rep. John Killacky (D, district 7-3)

Rep. John Killacky (D, district 7-3)

• The House committee on General, Housing and Military affairs updated some language around the National Guard which had dated back to the Civil War.

• The committee extended curbside pickup for alcohol during the pandemic and for the next year, though the extension will sunset in two years.

• A bill to study how neighboring states handle sports betting passed both chambers. Killacky noted that the House has been hesitant to encourage sports betting, although some in the Senate are “interested in at least understanding the potential revenues.”

• The bill that apologized for Vermont’s part in eugenics passed through Killacky’s committee and specifically stood out to him as an important moment. The bill has been in the works for 10 years, he said. “To have different people really talk to us about their lived experience and their trauma of surviving — that was pretty profound for me,” he said.

• The “heartbreak moment of the season,” Killacky said, was the stall of bill, S.79, which would create a rental housing registry in part to ensure professional health and safety inspections. The bill has been talked about since 2010, he said, but fell short of final approval in the last leg of the session.

“The time seemed right to do this, particularly during the pandemic with all the federal dollars coming in. It would have been nice if there was a central location to communicate with landlords,” he said. The bill also would have allowed property-owners more flexibility under the temporary eviction moratorium.

Legislators will pick it back up the first day of the January session in 2022, said Killacky — or sooner, if work resumes this summer for a veto session. “The bill did cross the line, it just was a little late and the race was over for the summer,” he said.

Rep. Maida Townsend (D, district 7-4)

• The House Appropriations Committee built and passed a cohesive and notably bipartisan budget, with 100 percent of state legislators voting in favor. Townsend described it as the result of “what the governor termed as progress, rather than politics.”

“Everybody was working together and basically had the same goals in mind, the same values, wanting to be reflected in this budget,” she said. The only rough patches of disagreement came down to whether some aspects should be supported by general fund dollars or federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

• To frame discussions in the 2022 session, when legislators will work on where the remainder of federal rescue funds will be allocated, the Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tem will go into communities for statewide listening tours, said Townsend. They intend to reach out to Vermonters “not using traditional means” to hear how people think the remaining money should be invested.

“We will have these recommendations from Vermonters from all over the state as to how we should be focused on developing the budget for fiscal year 2023,” she said.

• Another bill passed provides a 3 percent increase in the rates for caregivers. The bill “sounds teeny,” she said, but will have a needed impact.

• In the budget, $5 million is allocated for adult day care costs, and more funds have been used to fill “deficits in really important funds,” said Townsend, such as the Victims Compensation Fund, the 911 fund, the Human Rights Commission and more.

“The budget is filled with all sorts of wonderful things that really help Vermont and Vermonters across the board, and current into the future,” she said.

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D)

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D)

• Bill S.66, which the governor signed, gives greater clarification for different types of e-bicycles and allows municipalities to have standard signage, terminology and regulations.

• Chittenden expects “interesting” discussion on the pupil weighting study bill, S.13, which passed this session and will return with some kind of recommendation and report next year. “I think that will be a very important topic next year,” he said.

The bill is based on a study which proposed changing the pupil weighting formula, which effects how much funding school districts receive. South Burlington would likely see a tax hike under such an updated formula.

• Chittenden said he is largely supportive of another bill that dealt with four charter changes the city of Burlington passed in March, but he has concerns regarding one related to the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.

“I look forward to having a rich, robust discussion about the composition of the airport commission in the coming January term,” he said, to ensure “we make the best decisions over the use of our airspace of the county for the largest airport in the entire state.”

• As far as the remainder of the federal rescue funds, Chittenden said he supports infrastructure investments that will last, specifically for smarter roads, electric cars, school buildings and broadband.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE – MAY 20201 – TOXIC CHEMICALS OF HIGH CONCERN

This week the House passed S. 20, a bill that focuses on protecting Vermonters from the risks that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known widely as PFAS, and other toxic chemicals pose to our personal health as well as to that of the environment.

The bill targets five different areas of consumer products that are major sources of PFAS exposure and the ensuing environmental contamination and negative health effects. It bans PFAS from firefighting foam; it requires disclosure of use of PFAS in personal protective equipment; it bans PFAS and phthalates from food packaging as well as authorizes rule-making to potentially restrict harmful bisphenol chemicals; it bans PFAS from residential carpets and rugs and aftermarket treatments; and it bans PFAS from ski wax. Finally, it adds 3 additional PFAS chemicals to the “Chemicals of High Concern for Children,” and in doing so aligns the Department of Health’s list with our Agency of Natural Resources drinking water standards for monitoring PFAS.

For each of the consumer products listed above, the attorney general can request a certificate of compliance from a manufacturer. If a manufacturer is not in compliance, the attorney general can seek remedies through the existing Vermont Consumer Protection Act.

What is PFAS? It is a group of approximately 9,000 chemicals, mainly used in waterproofing and surfactant applications. While forms of PFAS have been in use since the mid-20th century, they have more recently been found to be associated with increased risks of cancer, as well as adverse health effects on the liver, endocrine system, immune system and fetal development. They are known as “forever chemicals” since they do not biodegrade in the environment and bioaccumulate within the body. PFAS is found in groundwater and drinking water across the state; it is found in the runoff (or leachate) from active and abandoned landfills in Vermont as well as in every wastewater treatment facility in Vermont.

Perhaps most concerning, PFAS can be found within the blood of almost everyone.

There’s no easy or inexpensive way to deal with these chemicals and prevent harm to the environment and human health once they’ve been released. That is why this bill moves upstream. It focuses on source reduction of these synthetic chemicals that have been intentionally added to products to avoid future contamination and focuses on the major PFAS-containing products.

Legislative Council clarified the impact of federal law and regulation as it impacts PFAS containing firefighting foam. The bill prohibits use of PFAS-containing foam, with staggered effective dates based on facilities. It prohibits the use of PFAS-containing foam in training or testing statewide. The effective date for federal facilities (Burlington International Airport and National Guard) set at October 2023. The Federal Aviation Administration has set a goal of transitioning to PFAS-free by October 2021, and the military by October 2023. If federal laws push back the date, they will have preemption over state law.

In reviewing and amending the unanimously Senate passed bill, the Human Services Committee took weeks of testimony from firefighters to canning manufacturers; from the UVM ski coach to the state toxicologist; from three different state agencies : Health, Natural Resources as well as Commerce and Economic Development; from a multitude of chemists as well as public health providers; from the National Guard and Vermont Military Poisons Coalition and from the Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business for Social Responsibility to name just a few.

By eliminating unnecessary PFAS toxins from commonly used products, we’re not only addressing the acute threat posed by these chemicals, but also the potential harm they may cause by exacerbating the harmful effects of a virus like COVID-19. This is a very important piece of legislation for Vermont now. It can protect our health, our environment and our ‘Vermont’ brand for commerce and tourism. Next steps for the bill are first to reconcile the small differences between the House and Senate passed versions and then it will be on its way to the Governor for his action.

Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate hearing from you and encourage you to reach out with your input, suggestions, questions or concerns at any time. apugh@leg.state.vt.us; 863-6705. The tentative date for adjournment this year has been set for May 22, which means that our next community conversation with your South Burlington legislators on Monday May 24 at 6:30 p.m. should be very informative.

Rundown of Bills Passed by the House thus Far

Sixteen. That’s the number of bills that, after weeks of testimony and discussion in the committees of jurisdiction and two days of discussion and debate, were passed by the House last week (March 23-26) and now await further action in the Senate. This brings it to a total of 57 bills that have passed the House of which five have be signed into law.

Among the bills we passed last week were the three major money bills: this year’s annual budget, the two-year capital budget, and the transportation budget. Other major bills focused on childcare, economic development, education and broadband amongst other issues.

While in this month’s column I am reporting on three — those that I’ve been most frequently asked about — you can find the language of all the bills the House has passed online at legislature.vermont.gov/bill/passed/2022.https://bea80ef643f426163a261bc518cfee30.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

House Human Services brought two of these bills to the floor. H. 153, Medicaid reimbursement rates for home and community-based providers passed the House unanimously on a voice vote. It addresses the services and supports that thousands of Vermonters with a brain injury, with developmental and intellectual disabilities, with substance use and mental health challenges and older Vermonters rely on.

These community -based providers include home visitors, residential care homes, area agencies on aging and community mental health agencies. They are doing the work of the state and yet the Medicaid reimbursement rate for these providers has, over the years, been level funded without factoring annual cost of living increases for staff. The result of this has been 15 percent staff vacancies and long waitlists for services to be delivered by these providers. The budget bill this year includes a one- time 2 percent increase and then H. 153 outlines a process for assessing the adequacy of the Medicaid rate and the cost associated with increasing those rates and for that to be evaluated and considered by the legislature on a yearly basis.

H. 171 which focuses on Vermont’s childcare system overwhelmingly passed the House 146-1. Pre-pandemic, we knew, and post-pandemic, we confirmed how integral accessible, affordable, reliable, high-quality child care is for the social, emotional and physical development and thriving of Vermont’s youngest citizens, its families, and ultimately its workers and employers in putting the state on the path of economic recovery. Policy changes outlined in the bill include strategic investments in the early childhood education workforce through needs-based scholarship programs for current and prospective early childhood providers, and a student loan repayment program. It expands the eligibility for childcare financial assistance to families earning less than 350 percent of poverty (100 percent of poverty is at $22,00 for a family of three) and reducing a families’ required copayments and out of pocket expenses. It includes a study on the costs and feasibility of capping childcare costs to a maximum of 10 percent of family income in the future. The American Rescue Plan Act will bring over $47 million to Vermont for investments in childcare so the bill also includes a process to make recommendations on the effective use of those federal funds.

H. 433, this year’s Transportation Bill, passed the House unanimously on a voice vote. It represents a significant investment in Vermont’s roads, railways and bridges. While fully funding the fiscal year 2022 Agency of Transportation projects and programs, the infusion of new federal dollars also allows us to ramp up funding to cities and towns. Did you know that transportation accounts for 44 percent of Vermont’s carbon emissions? Using one-time federal stimulus funds, H 433 also includes expanded incentives for electric vehicles and e-bikes.

The bill also includes provisions supporting smarter, denser planning through the Complete Streets program; improving access to charging stations for people who don’t live in single-family homes; fare-free public transit across the state through 2022; and bike safety.

Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate hearing from you and encourage you to reach out with your input, suggestions, questions or concerns at any time at apugh@leg.state.vt.us; 863-6705. And don’t forget to mark your calendars for the next Zoom Community Conversation with your Legislators on Monday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m.

Lawmakers Take a Look at Health and Human Services

In a normal year, the General Assembly meets for 18 weeks, from early January until mid-May with a week off for a town meeting recess.

The 18-week session plan sets a deadline to finish our work by mid to late May.

To achieve an orderly flow of work to meet that adjournment date, the House-Senate Rules Committee sets what are known as crossover dates. Crossover refers to moving bills over to the other chamber, House to the Senate — crossing over.

This year that date is Friday, March 12, for policy bills and March 19 for those bills that either raise revenue or have an appropriation. In practice what that means is that this next week policy committees, including the one I chair, human services, will be wrapping up work on priority bills that started in the House and passing bills onto the Senate for their consideration.

Just before we left this past week for our Town Meeting recess, the Vermont House passed nearly $80 million in additional COVID-19 relief and recovery aid for Vermonters.

The appropriations committee worked collaboratively with multiple committees including the human services committee to craft this legislation. H.315 provides critical assistance to working families and businesses struggling due to the pandemic. The intent of the funding is to address health disparities, increase social equity, and stimulate economic recovery. More specifically, the bill would provide funding for small businesses that received no federal assistance, continued pandemic-related services for New Americans, community supports for those with mental health issues, one-time stimulus checks for the poorest Vermont families who are involved in the Reach Up program added investment in Vermont Farmers to Families Food Box program so no Vermonter will go hungry, funding to develop housing for Vermonters without a place to live.

The human services committee will be working on three legislative initiatives, more affordable quality childcare, community based care, and addressing health disparities, this coming week so that they make “crossover” and be taken up by the Senate.

High-quality childcare is an investment in Vermont’s future. By increasing access and affordability for Vermont’s families, we help parents stay employed and contribute to their local economies. By increasing childcare worker wages, we can support and grow our early educator workforce. By prioritizing the well-being and development of our children, we are giving the next generation of Vermonters a head-start to success. H. 171 will make these investments a reality. The reforms offered in this bill are based on feedback from Vermont’s parents, providers, employers, and community members. Not only does H.171 make childcare more affordable, it removes barriers to access, ensures fair wages for providers, establishes workforce development programs, and creates a study to identify future revenue sources.

Thousands of Vermonters, from the very young to the very old, are supported by private nonprofit providers who accept Medicaid as payment for services. These providers are often referred to as home and community-based providers. They serve people with a variety of risk factors including, but not limited to, significant health care issues; drug and alcohol use; and support needs related to aging, mental health issues, and developmental disabilities. As a state, our policy reflects the evidence-based findings that people achieve the best care and outcomes when served in their communities, close to friends and family, rather than in institutional settings. However, we have yet to develop a sustainable system to pay for these community-based services. H.153, begins to provide the framework to consider changes and recognize cost of living adjustments to the Medicaid rate reimbursement system for these critical supports to vulnerable Vermonters.

The disturbing reality of health disparities has been brought into sharper focus by the pandemic. The social determinants of health are those economic, environmental and social conditions that influence individual and group differences in health status. A recent Vermont Health Department survey revealed that health disparities are greatest for Vermonters of color, LGBTQIA+ people, those with disabilities, and those living in poverty.

H.210 proposes to: establish the Office of Health Equity; establish the Health Equity Advisory Commission; issue grants for the promotion of health equity; collect data to better understand health disparities in Vermont; and require an additional two hours of continuing education on cultural competency in the practice of medicine.

Please know that I hold your trust in me with great care and responsibility. I deeply appreciate your input. Please reach out with questions or concerns at any time and I hope to “see” you at our next conversation with your legislators on March 22.

COVID, Money On Our Minds – Legislative Update, Feb. 2021

We have just completed the fourth week of what traditionally is an 18-week legislative session — last year being a huge outlier because of the pandemic, emergency declaration and the huge influx of federal funds.

Evaluating the impact of our response to the pandemic to date, while also responding to the ongoing challenges and opportunities it presents, continues to take the bulk of our attention.

In an interesting twist, the revenue news is dramatically different today from what was known back in December when the education tax rate letter was issued.https://47bfd321b86808d9bbb2ef2a154607c3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Vermont revenues have been stronger than forecasted back in August, owing mostly to significant federal fiscal stimulus which has flowed through to our revenues via several channels. Across all funds, total revenues are above their forecasted targets.

This is good news for the education fund and for property tax rates. The Legislature is now looking at a much lower increase on property taxes of roughly one penny then the 9.5-cent increase on the average education property tax rate that had been forecasted in a Dec. 1 letter to superintendents. This is based on the revised revenue update and projections that the state economist issued in his Jan. 19 report to the emergency board.

As we get more information about actual school budgets this may change, but we don’t expect it to change dramatically. The final rate will be set later in the session after results from school budget votes are known.

The Vermont House recently approved a mid-year technical adjustment to keep the state’s fiscal year 2021 budget in balance. H.138 passed with strong support and also included investments to support the Legislature’s continuing response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The following are a few of its highlights.

It allows us to provide $2.8 million in targeted rental assistance addressing a backlog of 1,500 households which had gone unfunded up to this point based on ever changing federal guidance.

It supports continuation of “Everyone Eats” through the end of the fiscal year, supporting farmers and restaurants in feeding hungry Vermonters.

It authorizes the state to provide “extraordinary relief” funding for the stabilization of long-term care facilities and adult day programs which have been so strained by the pandemic.

Additionally, it allows us to authorize continued use of CRF dollars to support safe, stable housing opportunities for Vermont households experiencing homelessness. It provided additional funding to the Vermont State Colleges for their additional expenses related to COVID-19.

This bill had to be crafted in six days. There was simply not enough time for all concerned from a policy perspective to shape proposals related to additional economic recovery grants, or reinvestment in Reach-Up and child development subsidies. It is now in the Senate where there will be further opportunity to do so.

Vermonters are invited to weigh in on Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed 2022 budget, about the state programs and services they care about. The House and Senate committees on appropriations will be hosting hearings to receive public input on Monday, Feb. 8, from 1-2 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. via videoconference. To testify, register in advance through the online form at legislature.vermont.gov/links/public-hearing-fy22-budget

Our community health and economic recovery will depend on government’s response, our continued vigilance and cooperation.

With every challenge there are opportunities for meaningful change.

Please reach out if you need help and I hope to “see” you on Zoom at our next monthly Legislative Community Conversation on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

Most importantly please stay healthy and safe and continue to wear your mask.

Legislative Update – January 2021

As this is my first column since I won re-election in November, I want to begin by saying thank you. Thank you for honoring me with your continued support. It is an incredible privilege to be your State Representative and bring your voice to Montpelier and I will continue to work hard to repay your trust and confidence.

The 2021-2022 Legislative Biennium began this Wednesday and clearly the overarching legislative priority this year is to continue leading a recovery for Vermont that focuses on the health of our communities and an economic recovery that leaves no one behind.

Because of the pandemic, as we did during the last session starting in March, the House is conducting its policymaking virtually over Zoom during the months of January and February, so as not to have 150 members gathered in one space from all corners of the state. This is to protect the health and safety of staff, legislators, and Vermonters at large. Throughout this time, all ceremonies, debates, and individual committee meetings will be streamed publicly on YouTube. The links to each are available on the legislative web page: legislature.vermont.gov

Prior to starting our policy work, the House had to get organized. Amongst other things, a Speaker must be elected, legislators sworn in, oaths of office taken, and House committees appointed. This happened on the first day.

Representative Jill Krowinsky of Burlington was elected as Speaker of the House. The Speaker is the principle leader and spokesperson for the House as a whole. She is responsible for presiding over the chamber (even over Zoom), managing priority legislation, being the chief negotiator for the House in major discussions with the Scott administration and with the Senate, and for appointing House committee leadership and members.

I am honored that Speaker Krowinsky reappointed me as Chair of the House Human Services Committee because, unlike Congress, committee leadership positions are not prescribed by length of service, seniority, or party affiliation. The ten other members of the committee represent the geographic and rural/urban diversity of the state as well as our different political affiliations. The policy jurisdiction of the Human Services Committee includes supporting vulnerable Vermonters and mitigating or removing barriers to individuals’ participation in the economic and social life of Vermont. I anticipate that addressing program proposals and funding decisions related to child care, older Vermonters and nursing homes and long-term care, public health (as contrasted with health insurance and individual health care), foster care, and substance abuse will comprise much of the work of the Human Services Committee as unmet needs in these areas have been underscored during this pandemic.https://0a54f49f33193cda5c87a4ccf228b0f0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Over the past couple of months I’ve met (over Zoom or through email) I’ve met with community members, representatives of advocacy organizations, trade groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and municipalities are eager to share their legislative priorities for the coming session.

In early December I attended briefings by the state’s economist and staff of the non-partisan Joint Fiscal Office who gave an overview of Vermont’s economy; highlighted the impacts of the $1.25 billion CARES Act investment in the state; and pointed out emerging trouble-spots on the horizon around food security, women departing the workforce due to childcare unavailability and the immense pressures that small businesses and the hospitality industry are under in order to survive let alone thrive. Additionally, I’ve communicated (over Zoom, phone or through email) with constituents, the South Burlington city manager, representatives of various businesses, the school board, area nonprofit organizations and, advocacy organizations in order to learn about their legislative priorities.

While the pandemic has revealed the inequities and gaps, over the past nine months, I have seen how by coming together we can creatively problem-solve to support our communities, our schools, local businesses and the most vulnerable Vermonters. This gives me great hope and inspires me for my work ahead in the Legislature.

I hope to “see” you at our next monthly South Burlington delegation community legislative forum on Monday, Jan. 25, at 6:30 p.m. Information about the Zoom link will be available on the SB Library webpage under events. You can reach me at apugh@leg.state.vt.us or 863-6705.

Please know that I am available as a resource if you need assistance or have ideas on how the state can better support Vermont and Vermonters. In addition to these monthly columns, you can follow my Facebook page, Ann Pugh, State Representative 7-2.

Older Vermonters and Family Caregivers Encouraged to Take Survey to Help Develop Plan on Aging

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2020

MEDIA CONTACT
Monica White, Director of Operations, Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living
Monica.White@vermont.gov | 802-241-0354

Older Vermonters and Family Caregivers Encouraged to Take Survey to Help Develop Plan on Aging

The Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) and Vermont’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) are conducting surveys to better understand the needs of older Vermonters and family caregivers and the services and resources available to them.  What is learned from the surveys will help DAIL develop Vermont’s next State Plan on Aging and will help each AAA develop their regional plan. These plans are guiding documents that will outline our efforts to ensure all Vermonters can age well with dignity.

If you live in Vermont and are age 60 or older, please take a few minutes to complete the survey linked here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Vermontage60.
If you are a family caregiver of any age, caring for a Vermonter age 60 or older, you are invited to take the survey linked here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VTfamilyCG.
If you would prefer a hard copy of either survey, please contact Flint Springs Associates at (802)-482-5100.  They will mail you a survey with a return addressed and stamped envelope.
All survey participants have the option to be entered into a raffle for a $50.00 VISA gift card.

The deadline to complete the survey is October 23, 2020.

“We know that Vermonters want to age well, and what you want and need to do that changes over time, and may have changed more during this pandemic,” says DAIL Commissioner Monica Caserta Hutt.  “Let us know what’s working – and what we could be doing differently – in terms of meeting our mission to make Vermont the best state in which to grow old or to live with a disability – with dignity, respect, and independence We value and appreciate your input.”

About the Department of Disabilities, Aging & Independent Living (DAIL):
Our mission is to make Vermont the best state in which to grow old or to live with a disability – with dignity, respect and independence.
http://dail.vermont.gov/
https://www.facebook.com/DAILVT