Self-employment benefits, volunteer opportunities and a Zoom update

"Take care of yourself" enamel pin on a yellow background
A pin designed by Betty Turbo

Legislative Update- April 1, 2020

Rep. Brian Cina and Rep. Selene Colburn

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 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 Vermont Small Business Development Center:

The Vermont Economic Development Authority:

The US Small Business Administration:

Please contact us if you need help navigating these resources:

Selene Colburn (; 802-233-1358) and Brian Cina (; 802-448-2178)

Volunteers and Donations Needed 

The State has launched a website allowing people to sign up for volunteer assistance to support the state’s response to COVID-19:

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:

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!

Meeting ID: 339 947 005

Password: 024625

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Meeting ID: 339 947 005

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What You Should Know About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

COVID-19 updates, 3/30/2020

Soapy hands under a stream of water
Please wash your hands and practice social distancing!

Legislative Update 

Rep. Brian Cina and Rep. Selene Colburn

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.

The Order provides exemptions for businesses and entities providing services or functions deemed critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security. For a full list, please review the order at

School Dismissed for Remainder of School Year

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.

Read the full directive here:

General Assembly Passes Emergency Bills

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 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.

Additional Resources

Here is a useful webpage posted by Building Bright Futures with links to a wide variety of resources:

The Peace and Justice Center continues to update this large list of mutual aid efforts and other resources:

Virtual Zoom Meeting with State Representatives (Cina, Colburn, and Gonzalez) next Friday at 5 PM

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 339 947 005

Password: 024625

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Meeting ID: 339 947 005

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2020 Stay home 1
Useful information from the City of Burlington

Food Assistance Resources

Food For All Graphic with food in the shape of letters

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.

A graphic showing meal distribution sites - info also available at

Hunger-Free Vermont has excellent information on multiple ways to access food and nutrition assistance, from 3SquaresVT (aka food stamps) to WIC (for pregnant people and caregivers of young children) to meal delivery for older Vermonters.

Feeding Chittenden, Burlington’s local food bank, remains open to meet food assistance needs at this critical time, with prepared meal pick up from 7 am to 9 am and grocery pick up between 9 am and 4 pm. IF YOU ARE IN A POSITION TO DONATE TO FEEDING CHITTENDEN, PLEASE DO.

The wonderful Old North End Good Deed Fund has been helping Old North Enders with basic assistance, including gift cards to grocery stores. IF YOU ARE IN A POSITION TO DONATE TO THE ONE FUND, PLEASE DO.

Last I heard, Food Not Bombs Burlington plans to continue serving food in the Burlington area on Sundays.

Finally, the Peace and Justice Center continues to compile information about mutual aid efforts, including many based in Burlington.

Please reach out to me or Representative Brian Cina or your local legislator if you need any help navigating these resources.

COVID-19: 3/18/2020 updates

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 9.00.11 AM

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: 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:

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

Password: 094394

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Legislative continuity:

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 for up-to-date committee agendas and House and Senate calendars.

Latest information:

Please keep up with updates from the Department of Health for guidelines and services:

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 9.07.11 AM
We’re all doing our best. Be kind to your self and others, as best you can.


COVID-19 updates and resources

What You Should Know About Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)

As we move into a week that is sure to be marked by further uncertainty and concern, while Vermont and the nation grapple with our responses to the COVID-19 virus, I want to provide some updates from the Vermont legislature and beyond.

A state of emergency

As you likely know, Governor Phil Scott declared a state of emergency in Vermont on Friday, March 13th and announced some immediate safety measures, while acknowledging the situation will continue to evolve. These include:

  • A ban on public gatherings or events of 250 or more people.
  • Restrictions on visitors to nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities, and hospitals.
  • Extension of unemployment benefits to cover wage replacement for COVID-19 related absences.
  • Extensions for Department of Motor Vehicles license renewals and registrations.
  • The suspension of non-essential travel for state employees.
  • Additional measures to assess impacts on the state and guide our response.

To date, state officials are not recommending the closure of Vermont’s public schools. I know this flies in the face of what a lot of us are reading and what many of my constituents are asking for and I’ll make that sentiment known to the Governor’s Office and Agency of Education and encourage you to do the same if you feel strongly about this. At the same time, I understand the balance officials are grappling with. Our public education system functions as one of the largest social service delivery models in the state and ensures that children and families facing food insecurity and unsafe living situations have a place to get their needs met during the day. My understanding is that the situation is evolving quickly and that they’re working to assess when they believe the most meaningful time to close our schools will be, in our efforts to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread. I suspect these guidelines will be changing rapidly in the coming days.

The Governor’s executive order says that, “no school superintendent or school board shall cause a student or parent to be penalized for student absences that are the result of following medical advice or the guidance of [the Vermont Department of Health] or arising from the concerns of parents or guardians relating to COVID-19.” This means that you can choose to keep your kids at home without penalties if you feel that is best for the safety of your family or your community.

You can read more about the Governor’s response to date here, including the full-text of his executive order:

The Vermont legislature adjourns

On Friday, March 13th, the legislature made the difficult decision to adjourn until Tuesday, March 23rd. During this time the statehouse will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. IT staff will be working to pilot remote working infrastructure and some committees will be continuing their work. You may have heard a lot about how many legislators are in high-risk categories, particularly given our median age (60+). My understanding is that while this is certainly a matter of concern, the decision to temporarily adjourn the statehouse is primarily related to the location’s role as a disease vector, with representatives working in a full and active building while necessarily coming and going from local communities in every corner of the state. Legislators will be working in their home communities over the coming week and monitoring the situation as we determine next steps. Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns, as I will be working in Burlington with a focus on constituent communications for the coming week.

This does not mean that the legislature has abandoned the needs of Vermonters impacted by COVID-19. This is an absolute focus of our work, whether we are in the statehouse or working remotely. Prior to adjournment, the House took some initial actions to respond. As described by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson:

“Highlights of our work today include:

  • Adapted unemployment insurance eligibility to make it clear that COVID-19 affected businesses & individuals are eligible to receive unemployment.
  • Ensured employers’ unemployment insurance experience rating is not affected by COVID-19 related claims.
  • Passed a resolution calling on the federal government to refrain from detaining or arresting undocumented immigrants in health care settings during this health care crisis.
  • Passed a health care workforce bill that will allow retired medical professionals with valid licenses from other states to join the workforce, streamlines the process for the Agency of Human Services to fund providers in the state to sustain them through the healthcare crisis, and prohibits coronavirus-related copayments. [SC: There are many additional measures in this bill to ensure access to healthcare and human services.]
  • Approved an amendment to expand our paid sick days law to businesses with five or more employees that work 30 hours a week or more.

Passing these bills was a preparatory step to ensure that as federal responses are clarified, the Senate has the ability to act quickly on a COVID-19 package when we reconvene. We await additional details from any forthcoming relief from the federal government, as well as clarity on the emergency powers the administration invoked today to ensure we are all working in harmony to put the very best package forward to help Vermonters weather this crisis.”

A progressive response

It’s been eye-opening to see growing support for an expansion of healthcare access, social services, and workers’ rights, at the local and national levels, as we navigate through this crisis. And it’s hard not to observe how quickly the situation is both exposing the fault lines in our current systems and encouraging us to think about swift and visionary changes. I found Farhad Manjoo’s recent New York Times editorial ( to be particularly illuminating, if not exactly heartening.

Organizations such as the Vermont AFL-CIO, Rights and Democracy, the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America, and the Burlington Tenant’s Union have started to articulate what a progressive response to the pandemic should look like. I’m grateful that the Burlington Progressive Party steering committee is also considering this and that members of the steering committee (including my district-mate Brian Cina) are at the table as discussions among like-minded groups move forward. Expect further announcements in the coming week.

As many of you know, many organizations and legislators (including the Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus) have been working around the state to push for bold climate action and put Vermont on a track to meet our emissions reductions goals. Watch climate caucus co-chairs Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas and Sen. Chris Pearson discuss their initial thoughts on what the state’s COVID-19 response means for our climate agenda:

Finally, it has been inspiring to see so many Vermonters mobilize to coordinate mutual aid tools. Here are some of the Burlington-based efforts that I am aware of:

A sign-up form for Burlington-based volunteers:

A Quarantine Delivery Request form:

A UVM mutual aid coordination spreadsheet:

A form for college-aged babysitting volunteers:

A Facebook group to discuss Burlington mutual aid efforts:

It’s unclear to me how these volunteer-led services will coalesce over the coming weeks, but it is wonderful to see the many efforts people are making to support each other at this time.


Here are some songs to wash your hands to, if you need help counting to 20 (I do!) and are tired of Happy Birthday (for the record, I always choose When Doves Cry by Prince):

Broadway performer Laura Benanti recently tweeted her recognition that many high schools are cancelling their musical productions and invited young performers to share some of their performances. The results are phenomenal! If you want to entertain yourself while practicing social distancing and throw some love to disheartened theater kids all around the country, this is the thread for you:

If all this has you wanting to change our world, while still experiencing hope, joy, and pleasure, I strongly recommend the work of adrienne maree brown, the author of Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism, whose recent posts on COVID-19 provide helpful perspectives: