Earlier this week, Progressives serving in the legislature called on Vermont State College trustees to delay their vote on VSC closures.
Dear Vermont State Colleges trustees,
We are writing to thank you for delaying your vote this Monday to close Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College campuses. Moving forward, we call on you to create space for public input about the future of the Vermont State College system.
Faculty, students, staff, elected officials and the public need more than three days to respond to this proposal, particularly given that it was drafted in private, with no input from these groups.
These closures would have devastating economic consequences in some of Vermont’s poorest rural communities. Students throughout the state will have less access to educational and vocational training opportunities and 500 union jobs will be lost. We know that education is one of our most important economic development tools. We’re going to need the infrastructure of a state college system more than ever as we work to rebuild from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We recognize that Vermont has dramatically underfunded higher education, with very real and difficult impacts on our state college system. We are asking you to slow this decision down, so that the legislature can better understand the needs of the state colleges, the economic impacts of downsizing versus providing support, and VSC’s eligibility for any existing and forthcoming federal money, including the $1.25 billion in stimulus money that Vermont will receive this week.
As Progressives, we will continue to express our support for well-funded public education, tuition-free college, and student loan forgiveness. Please allow Vermonters and their elected representatives to participate in the critical discussion about the future of the Vermont State College system.
TO: Governor Phil Scott & Adjutant General Col. Greg Knight
FROM: Representative Brian Cina & Representative Selene Colburn
DATE: April 15, 2020
RE: F-35 practice flights at the Burlington International Airport
We write in solidarity with the Burlington City Council and our thousands of impacted constituents to ask you to call for the suspension of the Vermont Air National Guard’s F-35 training flights for the duration of the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” addendum to executive order 01-20, and any subsequent extensions to this order.
We appreciate the many ways the executive branch and the Vermont Guard have mobilized to support the health, safety, and well being of Vermonters during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.
The area we represent, Burlington’s Chittenden 6-4 legislative district, is in the heart of the F-35’s flight path and we have constituents who live both inside the borders of the high impact areas reflected in current noise maps, or just outside their margins.
Our constituents are working hard to comply with the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order by social distancing, sheltering in place, and working from home. We have heard many instances of F-35 planes disrupting sleep, causing ear aches and headaches, interrupting the ability to work at home, and reactivating past traumas and exacerbating mental health issues at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have recognized the significant mental health impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. One constituent shared that she runs to the basement when the planes fly overhead, because of how painful the disruption is. She wrote of her home country, “When I was growing up, the basement was where we went for a potential bombing during a war.”
The impacts of the F-35s aren’t just limited to our district, though they are amplified here. We’ve heard from residents all across Burlington and Chittenden County that they are struggling with these regular disruptions.
Please join us in exerting your voice and influence to advocate for Vermonters during this very difficult time. Again, please work to suspend the F-35 test flights for the duration of the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
Representative Brian Cina and Representative Selene Colburn
As you most likely know, Governor Scott has extended the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order until May 15. In the Vermont House, we’re continuing to work remotely in our committees, and to prepare for remote voting on legislation to help Vermonters during the COVID-19 crisis. Committee meetings
We continue to see a high volume of need for unemployment insurance benefits and to hear that it can be difficult for people to connect with the Vermont Department of Labor. We also know that the state is awaiting both clarity and resources from the federal government for some of the expanded unemployment benefits that are coming, including those for self-employed workers. We are continuing to monitor the situation and advocate these needs.
In response to the increasing number of initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits and inquiries to its claims center, the Vermont Department of Labor will implement an alphabetized structure for intake of weekly claims and questions, beginning Sunday, April 12. It is hoped that this new process will reduce the traffic to the claimant portal by designating specific days of the week for individuals to contact the Department, based on the first letter of their last name. See https://labor.vermont.gov/alphabetized-structure-information to learn
more about this new process, and which days to connect through different channels, based on your name.
Please feel free to reach out to us about your experience with unemployment insurance. We want to understand how this system is (or isn’t) working for people and we will do our best to help you navigate it and to advocate for you.
Do you know someone who lost or lowered their income during this crisis? Many Vermonters will qualify for more help paying for health insurance. And if you or a family member lost income, you may qualify for free comprehensive coverage with Vermont Medicaid. Report income changes and see what you qualify for by calling Vermont Health Connect at 1-855-899-9600.
The pandemic is having a massive impact on our mental health. You don’t have to face it alone. Talk with a caring person who understands what you’re going through by calling or texting the confidential Pathways Vermont Support Line at 1 (833) VT-TALKS (888-2557). If you are feeling suicidal you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Virtual Town Meeting with State Representatives (Cina, Colburn, Gonzalez) on Friday April 17, from 5-6 PM
The meeting will be broadcast on Channel 17, so if you participate you will be recorded.
Topic: Virtual Meeting with State Representatives (Cina, Colburn, Gonzalez)
Economic Resources for Small Businesses, Gig Workers, and Self-employed Workers
We’re working to get more clarity on support for small businesses and self-employed and gig workers who are affected by COVID-19 closures, particularly in light of new federal legislation.
Thanks to our hardworking legislative council, we know that the recent federal CARES Act includes pandemic unemployment assistance for self-employed, independent contractors, and workers with insufficient employment history to qualify for regular unemployment insurance (UI).
Individuals will be able to access this if they are:
Not eligible for unemployment insurance (this includes someone who has exhausted UI).
Self-certified that they are otherwise able and available to work but cannot work or are unemployed because:
Diagnosed with, or symptomatic for COVID-19
Household member is diagnosed with COVID-19
Caring for a family member with COVID-19
Child’s school or child care is closed
Quarantined because of COVID-19
Advised by health care provider to self-quarantine
Unable to start job as a result of COVID-19
Head of household died from COVID-19
Quit job because of COVID-19
Place of employment closed because of COVID-19
Additional criteria as established by Sec. of Labor
Self-employed or otherwise would not qualify for UI.
They will not be able to access this if:
Able to telework, or
Receiving paid sick leave or paid leave benefits.
This will cover unemployment from 1/27/2020 to 12/31/2020 and the administration will establish a process to back pay benefits. Individuals can receive up to 39 weeks of benefits. Weekly benefits will equal the amount permitted under Vermont unemployment law, plus $600 per week.
We’re awaiting further guidelines from state and federal administrations about how to access these benefits. You are encouraged to open unemployment claims if you believe you will qualify for these new benefits. Visit https://labor.vermont.gov/covid19 or call 877-214-3331for assistance.
Small businesses and sole proprietors may be eligible for additional loans and grants.
For more assistance see the Agency of Commerce and Community Development:
The State has launched a website allowing people to sign up for volunteer assistance to support the state’s response to COVID-19: https://vermont.gov/volunteer.
The Vermont Medical Reserve Corps is seeking these qualified and experienced volunteers:
Licensed and certified health care professionals;
People with mental health, or other types of clinical or professional experience;
Health care administrative experience, such as with medical data entry or language translators; and
People who have worked with displaced individuals, such as homeless shelter programs.
Other individuals who do not have healthcare backgrounds but are willing to volunteer their time in Vermont’s response effort can register through the state’s volunteer web portal and indicate their expertise and availability.
Vermonters can also contribute to blood banks, food banks, and other emergency supply efforts. The American Red Cross of Northern New England faces a severe blood shortage and many local food banks and other community organizations are in need of support and donations of supplies. In addition to volunteering, Vermonters can also give back in the following ways:
Donate PPE: Donations of N95 masks, medical and industrial grade or surgical masks can be brought to your nearest State Police Barracks. You can find the location nearest to you here:https://vsp.vermont.gov/stations.
Virtual Zoom Meeting with State Representatives (Cina, Colburn, and Gonzalez) this Friday, April 3, at 5 PM
Please join us for a Virtual meeting this Friday on Zoom. This meeting will be recorded and broadcast by Channel 17. If you are concerned about being recorded, send us your questions in advance and we will answer them, and you can watch the meeting instead of joining it!
As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, the State must take stronger action to flatten the curve of infection through social distancing, increased testing, and other harm reduction measures. The State must also plan for the economic impact and work to build social safety nets.
Increased Access to Testing
The Commissioner of Health announced on Friday, March 27, that the State will increase access to testing. The state will continue to prioritize testing for vulnerable populations, which includes health care workers and patients who are hospitalized, in long-term care facilities or with underlying health conditions. However, doctors will now have more latitude to order tests for patients with mild and moderate symptoms.
You still need to CALL your health care provider to be evaluated and determine if you need a test. DO NOT go to a testing site without an order from your provider.
Tests will still be prioritized, and patients who are NOT experiencing symptoms will not be tested.
“Stay Home, Stay Safe” Order
Governor Phil Scott issued a “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order and directed the closure of in-person operations for all non-essential businesses. These restrictive measures are in place to minimize all unnecessary activities outside the home to slow the spread of this virus and protect the public. The Governor’s order directs Vermonters to stay at home, leaving only for essential reasons, critical to health and safety. If leaving the home, Vermonters should adhere to social distancing policies, including remaining six feet from others (except for those with whom they share a home) and thoroughly and regularly washing hands.
Governor Phil Scott directed schools to remain dismissed through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. Districts will close schools for in-person instruction and be required to implement continuity of learning plans for remote learning. The Agency of Education will provide technical guidance to districts on how to implement continuity of learning plans, specifically looking to address challenges around equitable access to learning opportunities, Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities, continuation of school meals, and school attendance and school calendar requirements.
The Vermont General Assembly passed two COVID-19 emergency response bills, and has resumed work using remote methods, including publicly accessible Zoom meetings and secure remote voting. See http://legislature.vermont.gov for access to committee agendas and livestreams.
The legislature passed a bill to ease restrictions and regulations in the health care system in order to maximize flexibility and adaptability. We also expanded access to unemployment benefits and adapted components of open meeting law to allow groups, including municipal governments, to conduct essential business while observing public health guidelines and maintaining public access to their work.