On April 22, 2020

A turn of the spigot

By Rep Jim Harrison

Two weeks ago Governor Scott indicated that as circumstances allowed us to ease the “Stay Home Stay Safe” restrictions, that he would do so, but only a quarter turn of the spigot at a time. This past Friday, April 17, we saw the first of those turns. Beginning Monday, April 20, his latest order authorizes outdoor businesses and construction operations with crews of two or fewer to reopen. Additionally some single-person low-contact professional services, such as appraisers, attorneys, realtors and others, can operate if specified safety requirements can be met.

This follows data that indicates Vermont is beyond the peak with the growth rate of number of new cases down to under 4%. The governor also announced we can expect farmers’ markets to open on May 1, with certain measures in place to be defined by the Agency of Agriculture. The RestartVT Team will also evaluate how to reopen outdoor recreation, retail, restaurants and bars, travel and other activities, focusing on the conditions needed to prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks.

The latest order also requires that employees must wear non-medical cloth face coverings (bandana, scarf, or nonmedical mask, etc.) over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others.

The Chancellor of the Vermont State

Colleges, Jeb Spaulding, also announced last Friday a proposal to close down three campuses and eliminate up to 500 positions due to declining enrollment and financial losses. The proposal was met with shock and dismay from many areas of the state, especially where the campuses are located (Johnson, Lyndon and Randolph). The VSC Board of Trustees met Monday, April 20, to discuss the proposal, but was not expected to take action (at least as of this writing). Governor Scott expressed concern over the proposal, but was unwilling to endorse higher taxes to bail out the state college system. Public comments on the proposal can be posted at surveymonkey.com/r/J8BRV5Z.

A review of the status of the state’s K-12 Education Fund last Thursday, April 16, by the Senate Finance and Education Committees, projected a deficit of $150 million in the coming year. The Legislature’s fiscal analysts estimated previous projections of statewide education property tax increases of 5-6 cents per hundred could balloon to 25 cents based on collective locally approved school budgets at last month’s Town Meeting. (This could change if the federal government provides additional funds for lost revenue or school budgets are reduced over what was approved by voters.) An increase of 25 cents equates to $500 on a $200,000 home.

Another area garnering a lot of attention these days is the unprecedented backlog of unemployment claims at the VT Dept. of Labor. Many Vermonters have been trying unsuccessfully for a month to put in a claim. Understandably, many are frustrated, angry and scared, as they do not know when they will receive benefits.

In response, on Friday, the governor made the unprecedented announcement that the state would issue checks to those still not able to get their claim processed by this past weekend, and worry about settling up later.

Some employers who have tried to rehire employees report difficulty with some employees preferring to stay unemployed due to the extra $600 per week Uncle Sam has promised to contribute to their weekly claim. But be aware that under Vermont unemployment laws, employees who refuse to return to work will lose their UI benefit.

In the coming week, self-employed and independent contractors may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Normally, self-employed (who do not pay into the unemployment fund) are not eligible for its benefits. However, this provision was added as part of the federal stimulus packaged that Vermont is now working to implement.

In addition to what some private employers are offering in premium pay, the Vermont Senate may consider a proposal to give additional pay to essential workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those being considered eligible for the benefit include grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, janitors, trash collectors, child care providers, and assisted living and nursing home caregivers. It is not clear where the money for extra pay would come from.

In closing, let’s hope that the number of Covid cases continues to decline and the spigot can turn again soon.
Call 211 for additional information on Covid-19 and assistance options or visit: healthvermont.gov/covid19.

In the meantime, I will do my best to keep you informed via email updates (to sign up visit eepurl.com/gbxzuz) or my Facebook page (facebook.com/harrisonforvermont).

Jim Harrison is the state representative for Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Vermont Legislature adjourns after a contentious 2024 session

May 15, 2024
Session was shaped by debates over property taxes, housing shortages, flood recovery and public safety By Sarah Mearhoff and Shaun Robinson/VTDigger After a tumultuous day of dealmaking on housing, land use and property tax measures, the Vermont Legislature adjourned its 2024 session in the early hours of Saturday morning, May 11. The Senate gaveled out at 1:18 a.m.…

New data shows first decrease in Vermont opioid deaths since 2019

May 15, 2024
Overdose deaths in Vermont have decreased for the first time since 2019. According to the Dept. of Health’s newly released Annual Fatal Overdose Report, opioid-related overdoses resulted in the death of 231 Vermonters in 2023, a 5% drop from 2022 when 244 Vermonters died. The overdose report includes data on Vermonters who died of any drug…

Safe bet

May 15, 2024
After a week of long days and late nights, the regular session of the 2024 Vermont Legislature adjourned early Saturday morning just after 2 a.m. My best guess in the annual adjournment pool was 6:30 p.m. Friday evening, which turned out to be way too optimistic. When the Legislature finishes its work for the session,…

A lot accomplished this Legislative session

May 15, 2024
Vermont’s 2023-24 Legislative Biennium ended in the wee hours of Saturday morning May 11. The Senate gaveled out at 1:18 a.m. and the House about 2 a.m. This has been a hard session. It was begun in the wake of a natural disaster, with a state recovering from terrible flooding. Despite these challenges we managed…