COVID-19 Update from representatives Brian Cina and Selene Colburn
We are continuing to gather and share as much information regarding the COVID-19 crisis as possible.
As many of you know, Governor Scott provided additional guidance this week that included limiting gatherings to less than 50 people and closing schools, child care centers, bars, and restaurants until at least April 6th. Many of us have already had our lives impacted dramatically by these developments. In addition to our work as legislators, we are both trying to manage changes in workflows at our other jobs. Brian has transitioned his busy social work practice to a telemedicine model, providing support to many people, and Selene is telecommuting with the University of Vermont while assisting her family through area school closures. We are thinking of you all and your families as you try to adjust and cope. We recognize that many may already be struggling to meet basic needs. Please let us know how we can help!
We’ll be holding a Zoom call with Representative Diana Gonzalez of Winooski and any interested participants this Friday at 4PM, to provide further updates, collect your questions, and answer as many of them as we can. See more details, below.
Unemployment and other assistance:
As a result of closures and social distancing measures, many employees and small businesses have already been affected.
Unemployment and underemployment benefits are available and we’re working to expand access to them and loosen requirements for COVID-19-related situations. We have heard reports that these phone lines are jammed at times. We understand that the Department of Labor is hiring additional workers to handle the volume of calls.
Here are the numbers to call:
Employee Assistance (Unemployment Claims): 1-877-214-3332
Employer Assistance (Unemployment Claims): 1-877-214-3331
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is asking Vermont businesses to share COVID-19 virus impacts through a dedicated email address: email@example.com. The Agency has also established a hotline so that businesses may call to report impacts and be directed to resources: (802) 461-5143. The hotline will be staffed Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The state has applied for disaster relief funding that may be an additional source of assistance. This may free up unemployment insurance eligibility for self-employed workers.
The Executive Director of the Vermont Economic Development Authority has outlined a proposed emergency, low-interest loan program for Vermont businesses to enable them to weather cash flow shortages caused in part COVID 19. We will keep you posted on this and other potential forms of relief as they become available, including those that apply to self-employed Vermonters.
You can find additional guidance for small businesses on the Attorney General’s website, including important reminders regarding labor law: https://ago.vermont.gov/cap/small-business-help/
The City of Burlington has ordered a stoppage of all electric and water utilities shut-offs. Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas have also suspended shut-offs. Pending state and federal legislation is working to provide relief from evictions, utilities shut-offs, and other forms of foreclosure and debt. This is a moving target and we recognize the critical importance of providing maximum relief to all people who are faced with dramatically shifting circumstances, as well as those who were previously experiencing hardships and vulnerabilities that will be compounded by this situation.
A progressive coalition responds:
A coalition of organizations held a press conference on Tuesday, March 17th, in which we provided information about public health and social distancing, identified ways to engage in mutual aid, recognized the importance of solidarity from the local to the global levels, and issued demands to the local, state, and federal government for immediate action. These demands are as follow:
(1) Antiracism // Actively oppose all racist and xenophobic responses to the coronavirus, particularly those which impact our Asian siblings and comrades, and those already impacted by the terror of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, detention, deportation, and family separation. Oppose any attempt from the local to federal level to use the present crisis to increase state violence through surveillance, curbing civil liberties, or attacks on migrants. Use executive powers and municipal resolutions to limit the ability of police, ICE, and CBP to hold undocumented people in increasingly dangerous detention facilities. Ensure equitable access to healthcare for all immigrants, people of color, queer and trans people, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals and families in our communities.
(2) Workplaces // Immediately implement full paid medical leave and universal unemployment benefits for all people who are sick, who must self-quarantine due to health risk factors, who must take time off from work to care for a sick family member or loved one, or whose places of employment are closed due to the covid-19 pandemic in both the public and private sector. Guarantee pay for all public employees throughout the crisis, even if ordered home. Ensure that covid-19 testing and treatment is free, fully accessible, and free of bias to people across the state, and implement mandatory testing for healthcare, childcare, home-aid, and food service workers, the responsibility for which resides with employers and should not place undue burden on employees. Ensure that farmworkers, domestic workers, gig workers, and others who have been excluded from labor protections receive equal treatment. Ensure that benefits and protections are not conditioned on immigration and citizenship status.
(3) Housing // Institute an immediate moratorium on evictions at the city and state level, as many cities around the country have done, and on payment for public utilities. Institute a moratorium on rent charges while public and private sector employment is interrupted during the crisis. Provide housing, food, and all healthcare necessities to houseless people. End the break-up of encampments of people experiencing homelessness. Work toward a moratorium on mortgage payments.
(4) Schools // Create a meal delivery strategy to ensure that low-income students who rely on schools for free and reduced cost breakfast and lunch do not go hungry in isolation, as in Rutland, where AFSCME union bus drivers are carrying out food deliveries throughout the crisis. Ensure that all families have access to quality childcare despite the closure of Vermont public schools. Provide equitable access to remote instruction for students with special education and ELL needs. Guarantee access to clear protocols and cleaning supplies for all janitors in public schools, kitchens and food delivery, and public buildings to decrease risk for vulnerable people.
(5) Funding // Recognize that the resources exist to meet all of these demands, that excuses based on fiscal responsibility are themselves grossly irresponsible, and that we have a unique opportunity to redirect funding to institutions for the public good. We can and should pay for these resources by redirecting funds from police, immigration enforcement, and military projects which enact violence on people of color, immigrants, poor people, and fellow workers around the world. Private employers must be pressured to cover lost pay and other expenses faced by their employees to the greatest extent possible.
Signatories to these demands include AFSCME 1674, Black Rose Burlington, The Bread &, Roses Collective, Brass Balagan, Burlington Progressive Party Steering Committee, Burlington Showing Up for Racial Justice, Burlington Tenants Union, Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America, Gender Inclusive VT, Kunsi Keya Tomakoce, Migrant Justice / Justicia Migrante, Peace & Justice Center, Rights and Democracy, Socialist Resurgence, Vermont Coalition for Ethnic and Social Equity in the Schools, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, Vermont State Labor Council, and AFL-CIO.
You can see a broadcast of the press conference here:
Virtual meeting with Reps. Cina, Colburn, and Gonzalez
(Friday, 3/20/2020 @ 4PM)
Topic: Virtual Meeting with State Representatives (Brian Cina, Selene Colburn, Diana Gonzalez)
Time: Mar 20, 2020 04:00 PM Montreal
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 751 121 130
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The legislature adjourned until March 24th with the possibility of a longer adjournment. Senate committees have been working remotely this week and House committees are likely to do the same beginning next week. Plans are underway to move key legislation forward, particularly necessary responses to COVID-19 at the state level. See https://legislature.vermont.gov/ for up-to-date committee agendas and House and Senate calendars.
Please keep up with updates from the Department of Health for guidelines and services: