Rep. Sibilia: April 17th 2020

Good evening,

Daffodil bulbs are already sprouting leaves: Gardening Q&A with ...

I hope you were able to spend some time outside in today’s return to Spring!

There are a number of significant stories that have emerged late last week and into this weekend that effect our district including progress on Unemployment just released today, good news for our home maintenance, construction and real estate industry (see below), significant funding being allocated to the Brattleboro Retreat, and a devastating recommendation from the Chancellor of the Vermont State Colleges.

As our individual states begin to coordinate with our neighboring states to contemplate the safest way to begin to restart our state and regional economies, impatience and stress have begun to show in pockets of our country as small groups have taken to protesting at state capitals. Some of this is fueled by stress, some by conspiracy theorists and unfortunately some encouraged by our nation’s President. Of particular concern are the allegations and insinuations about false deaths in places like New York City. I always encourage questioning government, questioning reporting and forming your own opinions. Please be diligent in listening and reading what your elected officials are saying and asking questions of them (myself included) accessing up to date data and utilizing reliable news sources.

Quarantining during this pandemic is hard, frightening, expensive, lonely and unfamiliar. The effects of the quarantine will be significant. The fastest way to turn this around is to continue social distancing and health and safety measures like wearing masks, slow the spread (like it appears we have done in Vermont), protect our healthcare institutions, test citizens for antibodies and wait for a vaccine.

5 Mindfulness Tips and 30 Mindfulness Quotes

We can do this friends. Thank you to all who are helping, essential workers, making masks, delivering meals, planning for our seniors, offering encouragement and cheer. On that note…

Loving and living is part of leaving

Laurie Croot Newton 4/24/1958—4/18/2020.

Today we learned of the passing of another well know Dover resident and long time community volunteer, Laurie Newton. Her last post on Facebook above is a note of encouragement and cheer for us all.

We can love and we can live every day, even during this difficult time.

I hope to speak to some of you tomorrow morning during Coffee with Laura:

Coffee with Laura call at 7 am Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can join that call here:
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/734376857?pwd=Z1BmNmlwcWxJMWxVZTFaZE96MmlQQT09

Meeting ID: 734 376 857 Password: 003089 or by calling mobile
+16465588656,,734376857# US (New York)
+13126266799,,734376857# US (Chicago)


Bookmark for updates:
Vermont Department of Health 2019 Novel Coronavirus Current Status in Vermont Webpage for updates.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control Coronavirus Disease page
World Health Organization Coronavirus Disease 2019


The path to restart the economy of Vermont, the Freedom AND Unity State

On Friday Governor Phil Scott outlined an approach for the phased restart of Vermont’s economy, emphasizing the state’s modeling indicates initial steps can be taken while the Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in effect. The new addendum to his executive order:

  • Allows small crews for outside construction or other outdoor trade jobs, and single-worker low- or no-contact professional services
  • Clarifies guidance for retailers to allow additional operations using delivery and curbside service
  • Outlines safety requirements for these entities and others already operating to ensure continued social distancing, hygiene and disinfection

The state’s latest modeling, presented today, shows the growth rate in new COVID-19 cases has averaged below 4% for the last 12 days, the rate at which cases double has slowed dramatically, and the number of people requiring hospitalizations remains stable. 

But we must stay vigilant ­– meaning staying home, avoiding large gatherings, staying six feet away from others, using a cloth face covering when in public, and washing our hands – to keep up this trend. Read the press release. Read ACCD’s Guidance:accd.vermont.gov

Serologic (antibody) testing
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD reported on Friday the findings of a working group of Vermont experts researching antibody tests. At this time, the group found the tests that are currently available are not accurate or reliable enough to make decisions or recommendations to change individual or population-level behaviors. The group will continue reviewing the information periodically to see if there are improvements.


Vermont Department of Labor provides update on unemployment insurance benefit payments

On Friday, Governor Phil Scott and the Vermont Department of Labor detailed efforts to clear tens of thousands of claim issues that are holding up Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to Vermonters. 

As of Thursday, the State had identified over 34,000 unemployment insurance claims, which combined, had over 50,000 stop-payment issues associated with them. The Department of Labor and the Agency of Digital Services were able to identify multiple approaches to clearing as many issues as possible so that payments could be processed. By Saturday afternoon, these efforts had resulted in an additional 20,000 claimants having their claims processed.

“Under normal circumstances, it is these issues that ensure the State’s UI program is adhering to federal regulations. However, given the overwhelming demand on the system, being able to provide timely claims processing while meeting all federal standards became virtually impossible. Ultimately, we needed to put people over process and get people their benefits,” said Michael Harrington, Interim Commissioner for the Department of Labor.

As of Sunday, nearly 32,000 claim issues had been cleared, allowing claimants to proceed with filing a weekly claim and start collecting benefits.

For the remaining eligible claimants (8,384 people) that did not have issues cleared, Governor Scott asked the Treasury to issue payments to them in the amount of $1,200. These checks were processed over the weekend and will be mailed out to claimants on Monday, April 20.

Checks provided to claimants include two-weeks of federal benefits ($600 per week), which a claimant would have received starting the week of March 29. This delay can be attributed to the processing of claims under stringent federal processes.

Claimants should be aware that checks likely do not provide the full amount owed but serve as an initial installment. Claimants will receive the full benefit over the coming weeks as part of the regular processing of claims by the Department.

The unemployment insurance program is both federally funded, as well as federally regulated. The lack of federal flexibility has exacerbated an already complicated and cumbersome program. While the State is eligible for additional federal unemployment benefits for qualified Vermonters, the ability to get these benefits to claimants in a timely manner was not possible under the immense requirements set by the federal government.

Given that payments are being expedited, the Department of Labor will implement post-payment quality control measures to ensure program integrity is maintained.

In addition to these efforts, the Department expects to launch the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program by the end of the week. This program will allow self-employed individuals, and others not eligible for general UI, to receive benefits. Updates on the PUA program are being posted online, as well as through the PUA Hotline (877-660-7782).

Also beginning this week, the Department will add an additional UI call center to be managed by the vendor, Maximus. Having done work with the state since the mid ‘90s, Maximus will provide 50 new agents to answer calls, with an additional 20 agents on standby. This will be on top of an additional 50 state staff that will also be added next week, bringing the total number of staff on the phone lines to more than 150, and more than 200 in total processing claims.

More information about Unemployment Insurance and the federal benefit programs can be found online at labor.vermont.gov.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and indoor
From Governor Scott’s FaceBook page: I want to thank Treasurer Beth Pearce, Deputy Treasurer Michael Clasen and their team for coming in on a Sunday to cut checks for those whose unemployment claim issues weren’t resolved yet. The Vermont Department of Labor worked hard and cleared nearly 32,000 claim issues. I’ll be dropping off about 8,300 checks in the mail tomorrow morning.

Many thanks to Representative Dylan Giambatista for putting together this video on how to follow the legislature while we are quarantining.

PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE HOTLINE ESTABLISHED FOR UPDATES FOR SELF-EMPLOYED, OTHERS

In an effort to provide dedicated updates for those individuals that are self-employed, independent contractors, sole proprietors, as well as others, the Vermont Department of Labor has established the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Hotline.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Line:  (877) 660-7782

The Hotline, which went live on Thursday, April 16, will provide daily updates as to the status of the PUA program, the timeline for going live, and the process and next steps for filing.

Currently, the Department of Labor is in the final stages of development for Phase 1 of the application process. This is expected to be available for individuals to submit their information in the coming days.

In addition to the Hotline, individuals seeking information on PUA may also register for the Department’s newsletter, and visit Labor.Vermont.gov.


Battling Connectivity Issues? Actions the Vermont Department of Public Service is taking to help

To help reconnect Vermonters at home with no internet to the means to meet many everyday essentials, Commissioner Tierney issued a “call to action” on April 10th to Vermont’s utilities and internet service providers, asking that they look for ways to team up and provide home connectivity solutions for Vermonters who have none.

The Department is also tackling the companion challenge of identifying Vermonters who need help now with connectivity, which is why the Department is asking you to contact its Consumer Affairs and Public Information Division (CAPI) for assistance with your specific situation. CAPI will need you to explain a little bit about who you are and why you cannot get connected to the internet.  For instance, does your household need broadband access for remote learning or telehealth services?  Is your home located without access to cable or fiber service? Or no wireless cell signal that could be used to extend broadband to your home?   The Department will use any information that you can provide to reach out to carriers and Vermont’s other utilities to see if there is anything that can be done to help you.  CAPI can be reached by either calling 800-622-4496 (leave a message with your phone number and staff will return your call promptly), emailing psd.consumer@vermont.gov or by filling out the online complaint form. The Department will also be releasing a survey available on its home page https://publicservice.vermont.gov/ for Vermonters to fill out about their internet needs.


Have you taken the Census? 

If you have not completed your census yet, now is a great time.You can complete it without leaving home or coming in contact with another person. There are three simple ways to complete the Census:

  • Online: Go to www.2020census.gov. Can’t find your 12-digit code that you received in the mail? No problem. Just follow the instructions and you will still be able to complete the questionnaire on-line. 
  • By Phone: Call 844-330-2020 to get started in English. The 2020 Census can be completed by phone in 14 different languages. 
  • By Mail: All homes that do not respond online or by phone will receive a paper questionnaire. Simply respond using a blue or black ink pen, and return the questionnaire in the envelope provided.

Regardless of how you respond, your answers will be kept confidential. Every employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life and the U.S. Census Bureau cannot release any information that identifies you individually.

As of Wednesday, April 8, Windham County had the second lowest census response rate (24.9%) in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding flow into our community, county, and state every year for the next decade. This money means better health care, schools, roads, job opportunities, housing assistance, disaster assistance and more. With so much at stake for Vermonters, every response counts!

Brooks Memorial Library Staff are available to assist the public in accessing the Census questionnaire. Call 802-254-5290 ext.1206 or email info@brookslibraryvt.org for assistance. For more information on the 2020 Census, visit: www.2020census.gov.


Please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, or if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or lsibilia@leg.state.vt.us 

Kind regards, 

Rep. Laura Sibilia 
Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham

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