Posts

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

Legislative Update – June 2020

Thank you, South Burlington residents for how you have taken the COVID-19 pandemic seriously.  We have continued to heed the call for social distancing, and proper face coverings and hygiene and it is working. In the past week, we went from a projection of COVID-19 cases doubling every 12 weeks to now doubling every 40 weeks. As a result, based on science and data, the incremental reopening of Vermont’s economy continues with now  limited retail, professional and non profit office openings to the and to lodging for Vermonters or those who have already quarantined for 14 days..  The web site of the Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs is where you will find the most up to date guidance as it is updated regularly.

As sectors of the economy reopen and Vermonters are called back to work, the need for Vermont’s childcare system to be operational again has become a top priority. Earlier in May, there was a ‘slow opening’ of facilities in order to allow the children of essential workers to transition back to their original childcare providers. More than 30 percent of Vermont’s regulated early care programs have been providing care to 1,800 children throughout the State of Emergency. Parents and caregivers are wrestling with competing priorities of workplaces that want them back quickly and school-aged children learning from home for the remainder of the school year. By June 1, they can be fully operational.
To help prepare providers, the Child Development Division, in coordination with the VT Health Dept., have released comprehensive health guidance for the state’s childcare programs, summer camps and afterschool programs to ensure the safety of the children and youth in their care. Additionally, $6 million is available for “restart” grants for a regulated childcare facility or day camp to use flexibly in preparing for the reopening their programs.
Some providers believe that the move to reopen is premature. Many are elevated in age, falling into the primary risk category for serious illness due to Coronavirus. They are also concerned about the impossibilities of social distancing in an environment with infants and toddlers. Likewise, cleaning/disinfectant supplies and PPE are still hard to come by as supply chains take time to reestablish themselves. The Human Services Committee continues to monitor this because It is essential that we continue to address the availability of care for children over the summer and beyond so that parents can return to work knowing that their children are safely cared for.

As this gradual reopening of the economy continues, the Governor and the Department of Health continue to make clear the importance of continuing to be vigilant.  We must all continue to practice social distancing, wear a facemask, and practice proper personal hygiene. In addition, sheltering in place for those over 65, and those with underlying medical conditions in order to avoid serious illness continues to be the recommendation.

 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought unprecedented economic, public health, and social challenges that continue to take a toll on all of us and particularly our elders and those marginalized people who call Vermont home. As we turn towards recovery, we must keep these disparate effects at the forefront of our minds and ensure that no Vermonters are left behind. This is the focus of the Legislature and the Governor going forward.  While life will be different, working together we will get through this – as a community, as a region, as a state, and as a nation.

Please join me and the other members of the South Burlington legislative delegation for our monthly meeting with constituents this Monday June 1 at 6:30pm. ( The box next to this article has the details for how to join us on zoom or you can also contact me directly….whether this sentence goes in depends on whether there is a box or ad next to this column) Hope to see you on my screen if not on my walks around South Burlington.

 

Finally, please feel free to reach out to me if I can be of any assistance through this at all.

 

 

 

 

Legislative Update – May 2020

We’ve crossed the one month mark since Vermont initiated sweeping actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 and we are now witnessing the annual renewal brought by spring, with its emerging flowers and greenery. Having been confined to our homes for weeks, it is not surprising that we are all anxious to get outside and resume our prior lives; nevertheless, the urge to shred winter’s isolation by jumping back into social activities must be tempered by following the Governor’s Emergency ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe” Declaration.

It is encouraging to see social distancing measures bending the curve of COVID-19. Relying on science and data, the Governor this week has begun to slowly ease some of the initial restrictions. Beginning this week, his latest order authorizes outdoor businesses and construction operations with crews of two or fewer to reopen.  Additionally some single person, low personal contact professional services such as appraisers, realtors, attorneys and others are now allowed to conduct business if the specified requirements can be made.  This latest order also requires that employees must wear a face covering (e.g.non medical mask, a bandana, scarf) over their nose and mouth.

As the legislature continues its work and hears from Vermonters, we are seeing the severe impacts of this crisis across the state in all aspects of our lives and we are charting a path forward.. Far too many Vermonters are going without pay and lack clarity on how to access unemployment; are isolated; are hungry. How will this change the way we do business? How will we protect the health and welfare of Vermont’s children, you and elders? What is our educational system going to look like when this is all over? As each committee meets, our focus right now is on those immediate legislative changes to deal with COVID-19 impacts.

The breakdown at the Department of Labor has been one of the major issues. The backlog of unemployment claims and the inability of thousands of Vermonter to successfully put in a claim even after hours and days of trying ultimately put too many Vermonters into financial and emotional distress. The steps the Department of Labor took weren’t enough so the Governor last Monday said the State would just issue checks for those who had not been able to get their claims processed. Normally, self employed individuals do not pay into the unemployment fund and so are not eligible for its benefits. However, allowing self employed individuals and independent contractors to be eligible for unemployment benefits was added as part of the federal CARES package that Vermont is now working on to implement. More information can be found at labor.vermont.gov.
Not surprisingly with the delay in unemployment checks going out and with a number of now unemployed workers ineligible for unemployment, the Economic Services Department saw more than a threefold increase in applications for cash assistance ( Reach Up)  and for food assistance-(3Squares) as well as inquiries for assistance to their call center. The federal government outlines the rules for 3-Squares and Vermont along with many other states is seeking greater flexibility in order to ensure that individuals have access to the food they need even when they are isolating, are not able to get to the store or have no access to a kitchen.

Please join me and the other members of the South Burlington legislative delegation for our monthly meeting with constituents this Monday April 27 at 6:30pm. The box next to this article has the details for how to join us on zoom or you can also contact me directly. Hope to see you on my screen if not on my walks around South Burlington.

Social distancing will slow the continued spread and exponential growth of this pandemic dramatically. While this can be hard and scary and frustrating, I urge you to continue to pay attention to this and help everyone in our community stay well. Thank you.


Legislative Update – April 2020

Revenue and Spending: Focusing on Structural Changes

Developing a state budget is about much more than numbers. A balanced budget affects peoples’ lives, provides the backbone of our civic life and charts a path to our future. The budget and revenue bills we passed this past week reflect over ten weeks of testimony, analysis, public hearings as well as input from the policy committees. I heard from many of you and the diversity of perspectives in our community is what makes us vibrant. For some, this budget cuts too deep.  For some it relies on too much revenue.  Unlike the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there may not be a “just right”… but there is compromise. You expected us to work together and unlike Washington we did.

In crafting a budget the Appropriations Committee was faced with an enormous gap between anticipated spending and revenue of $113 million.  How did we get there? Like many other states, when the recession hit, our priority was getting people through the worst of it with short terms solutions and the help of federal stimulus money while waiting for revenues to return to our former 5% growth rate. Trends nationwide don’t support that hope and band aid solutions are no longer the answer. Addressing the structural issues is a multi-year process. Pressures on the budget growth are most notably in health care costs, labor costs and making up for under-funding retirement in past decades. In closing the $113M gap, there are  $53M in General Fund reductions, $35M in revenue and $25M in one time money to bridge us to more thoughtful, strategic solutions.  This budget creates a path towards long term sustainability and accountability.

The revenue bill makes structural changes in the income tax code to make it fairer and more progressive, recognizing the growing income inequality in this state. It eliminates the deductions for state and local taxes from the previous years. It caps income tax deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction which for an individual would be $15,500 and for a couple filing jointly would be $31,000. While this plan is unpopular with many non-profits who do not like the idea of capping donations, we learned that over 75% of the benefit from charitable deduction comes from the federal income tax and that this proposal puts us much more in line with our neighboring states. Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island offer no state deductions for charitable deductions and Maine has a cap of $18,000. (New Hampshire has no income tax).

The budget we passed this past week (with a vote of 90-53 and I voted yes) makes real progress in addressing structural spending problems and the revenue bill we passed (with a vote of 90-50 and I voted yes) represents significant tax reform.  I think it is important (and interesting) to note that there were democratic, republican, progressive and independent legislators on both sides of each of these votes.  The two bills are now in the Senate where the analysis and testimony will continue and some different decisions may be made. This is important and essential because Vermonters deserve a robust debate about what investments and cuts to make because doing nothing differently or just saying no is irresponsible.

The days are getting longer, warmer and sunnier and we are moving out of winter hibernation.  I hope you can get out and enjoy all the beauty this state has to offer. If you would like a copy of the mid-session legislative update that the four of us wrote please contact me by email, phone or snail mail and I’ll get you one.  I hope to see you at our next monthly legislative forum on Monday April 27 at 7pm in the SB Community Library and if you can’t get there please continue to reach out.  Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Legislative Update – February 2020

At the VEOC we promote and foster employee ownership in Vermont because with employee ownership everyone benefits.  Employee-owned companies keep jobs local, employee-owners earn higher wages, have much larger retirement savings, and are less likely to be laid-off in a downturn. Chris Moran

Operations Support Executive / Employee Owner

PC Construction Company

193 Tilley Drive, South Burlington, VT 05403