After 15 long months, the official state of emergency in Vermont has ended, with the Governor’s recent announcement that 80% of eligible Vermonters have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Congratulations Vermonters – this is a huge accomplishment! We are the first state to reach this milestone, and one of the most vaccinated places in the world. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of people, Vermont continues to lead the way in our fight against COVID-19.
All state COVID restrictions have been lifted, but some federal restrictions continue to apply, and private businesses and organizations may continue to require masking and other protocols. Individuals, especially those with compromised immune systems or who are part of households with young children, may also chose to continue masking. Everyone must determine their own comfort level, and that’s okay. And our work is not done. While overall 80% of Vermonters have been vaccinated, the vaccination rate for younger people lags behind, with only 55% of 18-29 year-olds, 68% of 16-17 year-olds, and 56% of 12-15 year olds. In order to ensure our schools, colleges, workplaces, and communities are as safe as possible, especially as additional COVID variants crop up and summer travelers come to Vermont, more young Vermonters need to get their shots. Vaccine clinics continue around the state – you can find one near you on the VT Department of Health website.
While the health threat is waning in Vermont, social and economic recovery will still take time. The historic state budget includes significant funding for assistance that is now coming online. Below is a list of several resources that may be of immediate assistance to individuals.
- VT Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP) – provides assistance with paying for rent and past due rent since April 2020 in order to avoid eviction.
- Utility Assistance – eligible renters/tenants can apply for utility bill assistance for help with up to 12 months of past due or current bills. This benefit is part of the VERAP program.
- Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program – for eligible Vermonters to assist with mortgage and property tax payments for primary residences in order to avoid foreclosure.
- Neighborworks Alliance – statewide network of regional organizations that offer full affordable housing services.
- Weatherization Assistance Program – for households with low-incomes to improve the energy efficiency, safety, and comfort of your home and save you money on energy bills. Services may include comprehensive “whole-house” energy assessments, state-of-the-art building diagnostics, and full-service energy-efficient retrofits.
- General Weatherization Guidance & Resources – Efficiency Vermont offers general assistance and services for homeowners seeking to weatherize their homes.
- FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit – federal program to help households struggling to afford internet service. Provides a discount of up to a $50 per month on broadband service and a one-time $100 discount on related equipment.
- VT Temporary Broadband Subsidy – state program provides eligible households with up to $40 per month to assist with internet service through December 2021.
- Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (LECAP) – provides up to $3,000 to eligible Vermonters at primary residences who lack broadband service to help pay for the cost of building out the service.
Education & Business Opportunities
- CCV and VSC Scholarship Programs – Community College of Vermont and the Vermont State Colleges have several generous new scholarship programs for eligible Vermonters.
- Vermont Afterschool Summer Camp Resources – general resources about summer camp opportunities and funding throughout the state.
- Summer Camp Health Guidance – CDC guidance related to summer camp COVID protocols, including encouraging vaccinations for all eligible campers.
- Business Economic Recovery Bridge Program – grants for small businesses that have not already received funding for recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.
This week the Legislature will go back in session briefly with the goal of overriding Governor Scott’s vetoes of three bills passed this session. In order to override a Governor’s veto, two-thirds of all legislators must vote to override. While the majority of bills that pass have overwhelming tri-partisan support and are signed into law, Governor Scott has vetoed more bills than any Governor in Vermont’s history. Two bills vetoed this session are charter changes for the cities of Montpelier (H.177) and Winooski (H.227). In Vermont, municipalities that wish to change the structure of their operations and management must go through the charter change process. This requires a vote of the locally-elected governing board and then approval of local voters through a ballot vote. Once approved by local voters, the charter changes must be introduced as bills, passed by the Legislature, and signed by the Governor like any other bill. This entire process can take several years.
The proposed Montpelier charter change would permit eligible non-citizen residents of Montpelier to vote in local municipal elections. The proposed Winooski charter change makes technical changes to staffing structures, and would permit eligible non-citizen residents to serve on local boards and vote in municipal and school district elections. These provisions would only impact voters in these two towns and would only apply to local elections. Both proposals ensure voting security and are in full compliance with state election laws and procedures.
The majority of the Legislature is committed to making government and democracy in Vermont accessible, equitable, and inclusive, and no democratic function is more important than voting. We passed Act 60 to expand access to voting in Vermont by making permanent most of the vote-by-mail provisions implemented during the COVID pandemic and improving other aspects of voting in Vermont. Winooski and Montpelier are leading the way at making local elections more accessible. Non-citizen residents are often deeply involved in their communities, send their children to local schools, contribute greatly to the economy, and are directly impacted by local decisions. Overriding the vetoes now is necessary to ensure that these Winooski and Montpelier residents can vote in the next local elections.
The third bill Governor Scott vetoed is S.107, which would clarify that law enforcement agencies could not publicly release information identifying anyone under age 20 at an initial arrest. This provision is part of the Legislature’s ongoing juvenile justice reform that raises the age of juvenile adjudication to 20 years old to promote and support the successful rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. The bill provides an exception to ensure public safety protections and inform victims. Upon being charged with a crime, if an individual is charged as an adult, their identity and records would be subject to public release. In order to move forward with these ongoing reforms and ensure equitable practices statewide, a veto override is necessary.
There are so many things to celebrate this month and it’s exciting that we can now do so safely! This past week, President Biden signed federal legislation making Juneteenth an official federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, and has been celebrated by many African Americans since the late 1800s. Vermonters celebrated Juneteenth yesterday across the state. June is Pride Month around the world. Pride Month was started to remember the June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City and celebrates the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Check out the Vermont Pride Center website for events and also information about Pride Week Festival and Parade later in the summer. June is also Dairy Month – check out this story about Monument Farms from the Middlebury Natural Foods Coop archives. I know many of us get our local milk from Monument Farms in Weybridge (their chocolate milk is especially beloved!). Finally, June is the month of school graduations – congratulations to all of the students who’ve made it to the end of this difficult school year and best of luck to all graduates!
There are also always local productions and people to celebrate, so here are just a few. The Opera Company of Middlebury is presenting a virtual performance of Candide, livestreaming through June 30th. You can buy tickets on the Town Hall Theater website. I’ve heard that former Governor Jim Douglas makes a hilarious theatrical debut, so I’ve got my link ready for an at-home viewing this week! Julia Doucet, the Open Door Clinic Outreach Nurse, was recognized by Seven Days as a Pandemic All-Star for her work vaccinating farm workers throughout Addison County. And, “Turtle Savior,” Steve Parren of Monkton, recently retired after 30 years working as a state biologist running Vermont’s Nongame and Natural Heritage Program. Thanks Julia and Steve for your important work!
Happy Summer Vacation, Father’s Day, and Summer Solstice too! As we continue to recover from the pandemic and re-emerge back into socializing, travel, celebrations, and gatherings, let’s continue to be gentle with each other. Many of us have lives to celebrate and losses to mourn. The transition out of the pandemic will take patience and time. Take care of yourself during this happy/sad summer.