Rep. Sibilia: August 2, 2021 Update

Good evening

State economists forecasting increases in tax revenue for FY 2022 & 2023. Unpredictability from the pandemic may affect overall recovery

Many thanks to the Wardsboro and Dover Public Libraries who have agreed to allow me to host monthly in person public office hours Wardsboro library on the 3rd Thursdays from 6-7 pm beginning August 19th and the Dover library 3rd Tuesdays from 6-7 pm beginning August 17th. I will also host a monthly online office hours on the 3rd Saturday of the month from 11-noon beginning August 21st – you can join this online meeting here or by calling +1 646 558 8656 Meeting ID: 734 376 857 Passcode: 003089.

My intention is to have monthly in person office hours in additional towns as library space and time becomes available until the legislature reconvenes in January. I hope you will join when you can to ask questions or to hear others questions.

There are two Veteran’s Town Halls – for everyone – coming up to gather – in person and outdoors – as communities to listen to veterans’ stories and reflections. More info here.

Vermonters working across the state and in our region have been planning and coordinating efforts to bring broadband to every address. I’m excited to have been named one of the five members of the new Vermont Community Broadband Board which will funnel resources to the local communications union districts, amplifying their efforts to extend reliable Internet to the farthest reaches of the state. Vermont Selects Board to Achieve Statewide Broadband by 2028 In addition, the Governor has appointed Christine Hallquist Executive Director of Vermont Community Broadband Board.

Here are some links to ongoing work I am monitoring that will play a role in next year’s legislative session:

Here is hoping for a few drier days!

From last weeks storm. Damage from recent rain and flooding can be reported to your town’s emergency manager or 2-1-1

Vermont COVID Memorial

A statewide COVID memorial service is planned for Sunday, Sept. 19, at 3 p.m, on the Statehouse lawn by Vermont Interfaith Action. The goal of the memorial service is to bring Vermonters together as a community to reflect on our pandemic year challenges, and to honor those Vermonters lost to COVID. At the heart of the event will be a ceremonial reading of the names of those who have died. Various clergy will offer brief interfaith prayers and readings, and the Governor has been invited to participate, as well as Patsy Kelso from VDH. I’ll send more details out when I receive them.

Update on vaccinations

Walk in Vaccine Clinics this week for residents and visitors (regardless of residency):

  • 8/6 EMS Clinic – Brattleboro Gallery Walk Elliot and Main St. 3-9 pm Brattleboro Johnson & Johnson (single dose) Pfizer (first or second dose)
  • 8/6 Bennington Museum Courtyard Music Series 75 Main St. 4:40 pm – 7:00 pm Bennington Johnson & Johnson (single dose)
  • 8/7 EMS Clinic – Leland and Grey Union High School 2042 VT Route 30 2-6 pm Townshend Johnson & Johnson (single dose) Pfizer (first or second dose)

More ways to get your free vaccine:

Make an appointment for a free vaccine

You can also walk-in at CVS, Hannaford Food and Drug, Walmart, Walgreens, Price Chopper/Market 32, Rite Aid, Shaws Supermarket, or Costco or get an appointment with Kinney DrugsCVSWalgreens, Northfield Pharmacy, or UVMMC Outpatient Pharmacies.


We need help! What’s the deal with the labor force and unemployment?

This is the number one question I’m receiving from employers as the national, state and local economies have come back and business are busy. With an influx of new people in the region who want goods and services and challenges with childcare putting stress on what was a very tight labor market before the pandemic and we have staffing shortages. Many have asked me about what effect the $300 federal unemployment benefit – being paid on top of Vermont’s regular unemployment wages – is having.

In July I reached out to the Commissioner of Labor and the governor’s office to ask what the process was for ending the federal benefit early now that the Vermont state of emergency was effectively lifted, and learned that the governor could make that decision. About half of America’s governor’s have. BUT, the governor has to give 30 days notice prior to ending early, and the program ends at the beginning of September. Governor Scott has recently said he will not extend the benefit period if the federal government allows that to happen.

At the onset of the pandemic, I was supportive of the $600 federal benefit – it may have been excessive, but, that amount helped convince people to stay home, and staying home was important for slowing the spread and saving lives. As vaccinations have been rolling out, the federal benefit has been reduced from the $600 to $300 in March and will go to 0 in September. The federal pandemic unemployment benefit of $300 per week was extended by federal action through the Benefit Week Ending September 4, 2021. (Program End Date of 9/6/21) Read the Commissioner’s letter about this extension. Here is some additional information about how other states are addressing this.

June 2021 has 12,000 fewer workers in the Vermont Labor Force then June 2020. Department of Labor Market Information has a breakdown by region.

“Unlike the decline, which was sharp and abrupt, the economic recovery continues to slowly gain
back what was lost. The size of the labor force and the number of filled positions in the Vermont
economy continue to grow. Vermont businesses are reporting high levels of open positions. No
matter the job market, finding work can be a full-time job. Even in a good hiring market, job seekers
may face challenges that make it difficult to find and accept work. The Vermont Department of
Labor’s field staff are operational in both physical and virtual settings. These services can assist job
seekers in making the right connections with employers and finding successful employment. Please
visit our website to learn more https://labor.vermont.gov/.”

Michael Harrington, Labor Commissioner July 16, 2021 Information on work search requirements can be found here: https://labor.vermont.gov/ui-updates

Some strategies that I am hearing are helping some employers:

  • Multiple listings for your job opportunities – the Department of Labor, newspapers, Craig’s List, Indeed and LinkedIn are a few.
  • Posting help wanted in your establishment – your customers may be able to help with word of mouth.
  • Finding out what your competitors are paying – for instance, I have heard about significant sign on bonuses for cooks and chefs in the Valley.
  • Advertising benefits being offered – if you provide things like flexible scheduling, paid time off, any tuition reimbursement – advertise it.

UI Contribution rates and maximum benefit rates increased July 1

The Vermont Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance (UI) program announced that the state’s UI contribution rate indexed up to Tax Schedule III and the maximum Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA) increased to $583 per week in accordance with existing state statute.

The UI tax structure for Vermont’s “covered” employers is calculated annually and is adjusted to ensure solvency of the UI benefit trust fund. Under Act 51 of the 2021 legislative session, the tax rate calculation was adjusted in order to provide measured relief to employers. This adjustment ensured the UI tax schedule only increased by two levels, from Schedule I to Schedule III.

Employers were also provided relief from UI related benefit charges, which ensured that employers’ experience ratings were not disproportionately impacted due to the pandemic.

“The good news is that employers have made significant contributions to the UI trust fund over the course of the last 10 years ensuring that Vermont was able to weather this storm and not find itself in the situation of needing to borrow from the federal government. Now we must focus on rebuilding our fund while also limiting the burden we place on employers,” said Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington.

The Department of Labor originally proposed the freezing of the tax schedule and taxable wage base for an additional year to further support the economic recovery effort; however, those proposals were not supported by the Legislature. 

The maximum Weekly Benefit Amount for claimants will also increase by $52 from $531 per week to $583 per week. The maximum WBA is set based on the state’s average weekly wage, which increased during 2020, as lower wage earners were more adversely impacted by the pandemic. Claimants who currently receive the maximum WBA will see their benefit increase for the benefit week ending July 10, 2021.  The increase in the maximum WBA also increases what is known as the minimum qualifying quarter, which is used in part, to determine a claimant’s monetary eligibility.

 View the full release at https://labor.vermont.gov/press-release/unemployment-insurance-contribution-rate-and-maximum-weekly-benefit-amount-increase

From the Vermont Department of Labor: CARES ACT Unemployment payments ENDING

The federal CARES Act created various programs to expand eligibility to increase accessibility to unemployment insurance benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs created under the CARES Act include Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

PUA, PEUC and FPUC are all scheduled to end the benefit week ending September 4, 2021, which is the final full week of the program. After September 4, 2021, if you are filing in the PUA or PEUC program, you will no longer be eligible to receive those benefits. Please review the information at the Department of Labor to better understand how the ending of various programs will impact your eligibility.

The unemployment insurance program requires you return to work when you have exhausted your benefits to requalify. There are three important requirements you must meet before you can become eligible for benefits again.

  • Earn four times your weekly benefit amount.
  • Earn wages in at least two quarters.
  • Become eligible for a new benefit year: If you have been filing for more than 26 weeks, you will not be able to file for benefits again until you qualify for a new benefit year.

Help finding a job or training opportunities


Refugee Resettlement

Big news for Brattleboro and the surrounding region on refugee resettlement. Brattleboro will hopefully become a new home for families who were forced to leave their country due to war or natural disaster. Our employers and schools and volunteer organizations have a lot of capacity to welcome new Vermonters. Let me know if you are interested in helping to welcome newcomers to our region or want more information!

Refugee program overview from Rescue.org

Refugees are men, women and children fleeing war, persecution and political upheaval who have crossed borders to seek safety in another country. Most eventually go home when it’s safe, some stay in temporary refugee settlements, and a tiny fraction resettle in a third country, such as the United States.

  1. How many refugees are resettled in the U.S., and who decides?
  2. How are refugees vetted?
  3. How does the resettlement process work?
  4. How does the IRC support resettled refugees?
  5. What can I do to help resettled refugees?

Economic Recovery Bridge Program

Businesses that have not received prior State or Federal financial assistance may be eligible for assistance. The program is intended to provide funding to businesses that have suffered a tax loss even after receiving State or Federal aid.  Public guidance is available.


Route 9 Ledge Stabilization, Woodford

Traffic holds may be necessary beginning mid-week. Motorists should anticipate long delays between 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. beginning Thursday, 8/5/21. A work zone speed reduction will be implemented in the near future. Once the speed reduction goes into effect, fines will be doubled for speeding within the work zone. A lane shift is in place for westbound traffic (heading toward Bennington). Motorists are urged to reduce speed coming into the project area.
Travel will remain reduced from two lanes to one lane in the project area for eastbound traffic (traffic heading out of Bennington/Woodford toward Searsburg and Wilmington)


DMV to Reopen Satellite Offices

The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV) is reopening of satellite offices in Dummerston, St. Johnsbury, and St. Albans in early August. 

The DMV operates six permanent branch offices that are located in Montpelier, Rutland, Newport, Springfield, Bennington, and South Burlington. Branch offices are open Monday through Friday and have been open throughout most of the pandemic, by appointment only. Those offices will continue in-person services by appointment as the system has proven to be more accommodating for customers and has eliminated the busy waiting room and long wait times. 

The Dummerston and St. Albans offices will resume in-person transactions Monday, August 2, 2021, and St Johnsbury will resume Thursday, August 5, 2021. Vermonters who wish to do business at these locations can make appointments using the DMV’s online scheduling system or by calling 1-888-970-0357. Customers who have an existing appointment at a branch office should cancel it once their new appointment at a satellite office is made.

Satellite office hours will be similar to pre-pandemic office hours. The Dummerston office will be open every Monday and Tuesday. The St. Johnsbury office will be open every Thursday, and the St. Albans office will be open every other Monday and every Tuesday. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Despite the branch offices being open, many Vermonters continue to do their DMV business online. Online registration renewals and replacements have increased by 20%, and approximately 50% of all license renewals have been completed online since the August 2020 reopening.

To schedule an appointment online, go to https://dmv.vermont.gov/mydmv/schedule-an-appointment.


Accessing Vermont Health Connect

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 lowers costs for many individuals and families who buy health insurance through health insurance marketplaces. Vermonters can learn about the new lower costs in our state’s marketplace by visiting http://VermontHealthConnect.gov, calling the Customer Support Center, or contacting trained, local professionals to help them through the Assister program.


Up to $5,000 towards the purchase of a used hybrid or electric vehicle (EV).

The MileageSmart incentive helps pay for your next car – up to $5,000 towards the purchase price of a high-efficiency vehicle for Vermonter’s 18 years of age or older, not be claimed as a dependent, at or below 80% median income (AGI), based on household size. Apply Now


Volunteers needed to provide Respite Care!

Senior Solutions, Council on Aging for Southeastern Vermont has identified a need for respite care volunteers in Windham and Windham County.  With the growing numbers of individuals aging in place and being cared for by a loved one the need for respite for caregivers has become critical.  Respite care provides temporary relief for a primary caregiver, enabling them to take a much-needed break from the demands of caregiving a sick, aging, or disabled family member. A respite care volunteer is someone who provides temporary relief to a primary caregiver of a sick, aging, or disabled person, typically a family member. The caregiver receives a break knowing their loved one is safe, being well supervised and receiving companionship. 

What does a Respite Volunteer do? Respite volunteers provide companionship, supervision and safety while the caregiver is away. They also may provide transportation for outings to the caregiver’s loved one. How are Respite Volunteers different from our regular Home Visitor Volunteers?  Respite Volunteers will be encouraged to provide a block of time to the caregiver in order to give the caregiver enough time to receive a break or take care of life’s necessities such as shopping and other errands. 

Respite Volunteers will be required to participate in a training that will provide them with the skills and knowledge they will need when providing respite care. Anyone over the age of 18 years of age is eligible to apply.  We encourage young adults and college students to join our team of volunteers, particularly those who may be looking for experience in the medical field.

What will Respite Volunteers get in return? In addition to knowing they are making a meaningful difference in the lives of caregivers and their loved ones, volunteers will receive mileage reimbursement, camaraderie from being a member of our volunteer team and recognition for the important work they do! Become a part of this wonderful team by calling the Senior Solutions HelpLine at 802-885-2559 and letting us know you want to be a Respite Care Volunteer. Our Volunteer Coordinator will then contact you and walk you through the program.


2021 Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) Community Grant Program and the Enhancement of Recreational Stewardship and Access (ERSA) Trail Grants.

The funding for these programs comes from one-time general funds. These programs will distribute over $6 million to municipalities and non-profit organizations across Vermont.

Applicants to both programs can apply using a two-step letter of interest and application invitation process. Letter of interest forms for both programs are due by Tuesday, August 27. Strong applicants will be invited to submit full applications. Applicants can submit a letter of interest to both programs if they think their project is a good fit. If applicants are unsure which program to apply for, they are encouraged to watch the 2021 Outdoor Recreation Grant Funding virtual workshop from Monday, July 19 which was recorded and posted online. More information about grant programs, letter of interest forms, and virtual workshops can be found by visiting the FPR Recreation Grant webpage(link is external).


VT Route 9 – Bennington to Brattleboro Corridor Management Plan

VTrans in partnership with numerous regional, municipal, and community stakeholders, started developing the Route 9 Corridor Management Plan in 2020. The plan covers the VT 9 corridor from intersection with VT 279 in Bennington to the I 91 intersection in Brattleboro. Presentation Powerpoint/PDF


 

As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss them.

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. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com

Kind regards, 

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

 

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