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.
I want to share a number of resources about food security and access during this difficult time.
Please refrain from overbuying or hoarding large quantities of food. Grocery stores are being restocked regularly and we need to make sure that there is plenty of food to go around, especially those who may have limited opportunities to run food shopping errands.
Some grocery stores, including Burlington’s City Market food cooperative, have instituted a designated morning shopping hour for elders and immuno-compromised or high risk people, so they can effectively practice social distancing. This will happen from 7am – 8 am daily at both City Market locations. Learn more about City Market’s reaction to COVID-19.
The Burlington School District is providing daily grab-and-go meals at a variety of sites for students. You can pick up meals Monday through Friday between 9am and 10 am at the North Avenue Alliance Church and Edmunds school and between 10:30 am and 11:30 am at the Sustainability Academy and Champlain Elementary. There are many additional sites providing meals throughout the week. Read more on the school district’s Coronavirus prep page or call 802-864-8416.
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.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is asking Vermont businesses to share COVID-19 virus impacts through a dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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:
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: