Yesterday I attended the annual Joint Fiscal Office briefing for new and returning legislators where we received briefs on:
- Economic and Revenue Review
- Budget and Federal Funding
- Federal funding Looking Back, Looking Forward
- An Overview of Vermont’s Housing Landscape
- Update on PCB Testing in Vermont Schools
As you might expect, the dual forces of massive federal funding and inflation are the highihgts of the show. While Vermont’s revenues are still above expectations, the economy is showing signs of slowing down. While real estate markets are showing some signs of slowing down, labor shortages are not. I expect that will continue for a long time as more and more of the labor force is able to work globally.
More big news below with the launch of a voluntary paid family leave program and an urgent need for you (yes you) to give a few minutes of time to team Vermont’s broadband build out efforts. National maps are once agin showing inaccurate data about who has service and how fast the speeds are. The more accurate these maps are, the cheaper broadband is going to be in the future.
We also met with the new and returning members of the Vermont Rural Caucus and I was pleased to see legislators from every county in the state in attendance. The regular session begins on January 4th.
Our neighbors and their families have suffered two recent tradgedies. Jenny Girardi of Readsboro perished in a fire leaving her daughter Madeline and partner benind. Donations for Madeline can be sent to her grandmother Wendy Girardi, 3066 West Hill Drive, Readsboro, VT. 05350. Timothy Brown who is Jennie’s significant other and the owner of the home that was lost in the fire. PO Box 15, Readsboro 05350 had no insurance.
Luke Donahue a husband, father and lineworker with GMP’s Wilmington office died working to get the lights on in Halifax. A GoFundMe has been set up to support his family..
Be kind out there.
GOVERNOR PHIL SCOTT LAUNCHES VOLUNTARY PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE PROGRAM
Program Will Start In 2023 For State Employees, Opens More Broadly In 2024
Montpelier, Vt. – Governor Phil Scott today announced that the State of Vermont has hired The Hartford to create the Vermont Family and Medical Leave Insurance Plan (VT-FMLI), a voluntary paid family and medical leave program that will give all working Vermonters access to affordable paid family and medical leave insurance by 2025.
The innovative plan, similar to a previously proposed Twin State Voluntary Leave Plan put forward in 2019 with the State of New Hampshire, will be available to employers in 2024, and individuals not covered in Phase II beginning in 2025. To help make the benefits more affordable, the program will be anchored by the State employee workforce, who will start receiving coverage in July 2023.
“I have long supported paid family and medical leave, provided it is voluntary and affordable,” said Governor Phil Scott. “By enrolling State employees to create a pool, and opening it up to all employers and individuals, I believe we can accomplish our shared goal of providing the peace of mind of paid family and medical leave more efficiently, affordably and quickly than imposing another mandatory broad-based tax on already over-burdened workers. This truly is a win-win. I look forward to its implementation and I encourage Vermont’s employers to join us in this new program.”
Under VT-FMLI, the new insurance coverage offered by The Hartford will provide enrolled Vermont State employees 60 percent wage replacement for six weeks for qualifying events starting in July 2023. Qualified events include:
- The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
- An employee’s adoption of a child or foster care placement, and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
- Caring for the employee’s spouse, child, stepchild, foster child, ward who lives with the employee, parent or parent of the employee’s spouse who has a serious health condition;
- A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job; or
- Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty,” or to care for a covered service-member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service-member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (i.e. “military caregiver leave”).
In 2024, private and non-State public employers with two or more employees will have the ability to select from a number of plan design options that allow them to best support the needs of their employees and their business. Beginning in 2025, individuals who work for Vermont employers that do not offer VT-FMLI, self-employed Vermonters, and employers with one employee can purchase coverage through the VT-FMLI individual purchasing pool, which will be insured by The Hartford. More information can be found by clicking here.
The program will cost the State approximately $2 million annually – just about $4.50 per week and less than $20/month – for each of its employees.
The State will begin immediately working with partners to encourage employers to enroll in the program as those options open.
VERMONT COMMUNITY BROADBAND BOARD ISSUES “CALL TO ACTION” FOR VERMONTERS TO CHALLENGE WRONG FCC MAP DATA
Montpelier, Vermont –The Vermont Community Broadband Board (VCBB) is calling on all Vermonters to check their addresses on the FCC National Broadband Map and file a challenge if the information is incorrect. Correcting addresses that are incorrectly listed as served at speeds of 25/3Mbps or greater by a wired or licensed wireless provider could mean millions of additional federal dollars to build out 100/100 Mbps fiber broadband across the state. The map shows service at addresses as reported by providers.
“In the year 2022, in the richest country in the history of the world, high-speed internet access is no longer a luxury,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). “It is a critically important public utility that is essential to our economy, health care, education, infrastructure, and more. Too many rural Vermont communities have waited too long for access to quality, affordable internet. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, we were able to secure historic funding to expand broadband access – an important step in the right direction. But we still have work left to do. I hope my fellow Vermonters will join us in making the FCC National Broadband Map as accurate as possible so that Vermonters in every corner of our state can receive high-speed, reliable broadband.”
“I urge Vermonters to take a few minutes to contact the FCC to make their voices heard. For too long, Vermonters living in the most rural parts of our state have disproportionately suffered from inadequate access to quality, high-speed broadband services. We all should be concerned the FCC’s new National Broadband Map inaccurately represents our state’s ability to connect with the global economy, which will prevent Vermont from receiving the Federal funds we need to build out affordable broadband networks. I look forward to working with Senator Sanders, Representative Welch, and the FCC to address these inaccuracies, but Vermonters whose access and service is inaccurately listed must make their situation known to the FCC,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill enacted last year, provides each state will receive a minimum of $100 million to fund the construction of high-speed internet access. An additional $37.1 billion is then distributed to states based on the total number of unserved locations relative to the national total.
“The FCC map poses a challenge to Vermont’s broadband build-out. The map is missing or incorrectly lists the location of over 60,000 broadband-serviceable locations. The map also lists service availability levels far beyond what the state has found through its mapping and what we are hearing about from residents. This is the chance for Vermonters to join together and challenge incorrect data and make broadband more affordable,” says Christine Hallquist, VCBB Executive Director. “We’ve calculated that, on average, for every additional $50 million the state can offer Communications Union Districts as grants rather than forcing them to borrow the money, a Vermonter’s internet bill will drop by $10 per month.”
“The FCC’s National Broadband Map doesn’t reflect what Vermonters know to be true: many folks in our communities don’t have reliable broadband service. That’s a problem. We need to do everything we can to lower costs and expand broadband access for every Vermonter, and that means making sure the FCC has accurate data. I encourage everyone to go online, check their address on the FCC’s map, and file a challenge if the information listed isn’t accurate. Together, we can set the record straight and help Vermonters get the affordable and reliable internet service they need to thrive,” said U.S. Representative and Senator-Elect Peter Welch (D-VT).
States have until mid-January to challenge locations incorrectly classified on the new FCC Map. The better the map reflects the true number of unserved and underserved addresses, the more money Vermont will get, meaning more affordable internet service for Vermonters.
To file a challenge, go to Broadband Data Collection Consumer Information | Federal Communications Commission (fcc.gov) and type in your address. Your home should appear on the map and list services providers claim to have available for purchase at your location. If your location is missing or inaccurately reflected on the map, you can submit a location challenge to correct it. The link to correct information on an existing location is to the right of the address on the map. You can add a location by clicking on the map where the location should be and then clicking the “challenge location” button.
If the information about the service provided at your location is wrong, click the “availability challenge” button, bringing up a form where you can select a provider to challenge. Scroll down, complete the form, selecting the reason for your challenge from the drop-down list. You can describe your experience and upload files to support your challenge, check the certification box, and click “submit.”
Reasons to challenge include the provider denied a request for service at your location, the provider does not offer the technology reported to be offered at your location, the provider does not offer the speeds reported to be available at your location, provider needed to build new equipment at your location, a wireless or satellite signal is not available at your location, provider failed to schedule a service installation within ten business days of a request, the provider did not install the service at the agreed-upon time, or the provider requested more than the standard installation fee to connect service.
For assistance, please call Consumer Affairs Hotline (800) 622-4496. The deadline to challenge the data is January 13, 2023.
For video instructions on how to file a challenge, go to How to Submit an Availability Challenge – YouTube.
As always, if you have suggestions, concerns or critiques please be in touch so we can schedule time to discuss. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need assistance navigating government services at (802) 384-0233 or email@example.com. Follow my regular posts online at http://www.laurasibiliavt.com
Rep. Laura Sibilia – Dover, Jamaica, Somerset, Stratton, Wardsboro