by Kesha Ram, February 2nd, 2021.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Wishing you a reflective and meaningful Black History Month. February also includes holidays like Library Lovers Day and Random Acts of Kindness Day, so hopefully we can all find ways to continue to support our civic institutions and communities in this difficult time. It appears to be welcomed and appreciated to provide periodic updates from the Senate, so I will try to keep it up, and hope you will be in touch with any thoughts, questions, concerns, hopes, or ideas.
First, a very grave situation is unfolding involving a data breach within the Vermont Department of Labor (DOL). An unknown number of 1099G forms for unemployment insurance beneficiaries were mailed to the incorrect recipient. DOL is issuing a mass recall of all 1099s that have been mailed out and asks everyone who received this form to wait for a self-addressed, stamped envelope to return the documents. If the envelope does not have your name on it or the information inside does not match, please hold on to the envelope and form to return. The Department will provide ID protection services for impacted individuals whose private information has been improperly released.
Please know we are taking this breach extremely seriously and calling for a full investigation once the situation is under control to ensure this does not happen again and all affected parties receive services and protection. While the guidance is unfolding, if you are worried about your credit information or tax forms, please reach out to me and I will find the right person to help you. Further instructions will be mailed to everyone who is receiving a 1099 from DOL and information will be posted at labor.vermont.gov as it becomes available.
In Senate Economic Development & Housing, much of our focus is on supporting unemployment insurance (UI) beneficiaries and trying to ensure the coordination of federal and statewide housing agencies as we anticipate receiving $200 million in rental assistance from the federal government. The goal is to get these resources to those in critical need and help create further pathways out of poverty and toward greater stability to the extent possible. The UI bill we anticipate passing out of our committee soon would continue pandemic guidelines that remove the requirement for workers to have to look for work as a condition of their benefits while the state of emergency is still in effect.
When we first began looking at UI data, it was noted that we have the greatest disparity between men and women receiving UI benefits in the country. Women in Vermont made up 73 percent of UI recipients in January and are now at 69 percent of recipients, while the rest of the country is much closer to an even split. A "she-cession" of this nature calls for us to look more deeply into experiences into gender-imbalanced industries and childcare options. We will continue to work to understand the jarring statistic, and it will influence our approach to recovery, in hopes that no women or families get left behind as we seek to regain our collective footing.
I am always grateful to hear from young people, but I am sad to note that recently it is because many of our students in Chittenden County are upset and concerned about House Bill 92. This bill seeks to prohibit any flags flying at our schools besides the American and Vermont flags, which many see as a thinly veiled attempt to ban Pride and Black Lives Matter flags. While this bill has almost no chance of even being taken up for discussion, I know it makes many BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students feel further silenced and marginalized, and I apologize on behalf of the legislature. It strengthens my resolve to advance legislation to better support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, such as increasing the use of restorative justice practices in our schools and creating more funding mechanisms for multicultural liaisons.
On a related note, all BIPOC Vermonters deserve to feel safe and welcome in our state, and I wrote an op-ed about our collective focus needed on the support and retention of our BIPOC neighbors and co-workers, not simply seeking to advance racial diversity through recruitment. It clearly struck a chord, with nearly 900 shares from the VT Digger website:
Hopefully this gives you a sense of my thinking and what I'm focused on, and I look forward to being in touch.
All the best,