by Kesha Ram, March 3rd, 2021.
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Help is here, and more is on the way. Vermont has received billions of dollars in direct support to families and businesses, including recent stimulus checks, child care tax credits, additional grants and loans, and health care subsidies for older Vermonters. This is now bolstered by $285 million in additional federal aid to schools, $194 million to municipalities, $100 million for infrastructure and broadband, and $1.3 billion to state government.
Add to this the increase in vaccine doses, with all Vermonters 50 and older currently eligible to make an appointment. Today, the Administration announced that ALL BIPOC Vermonters age 16 and older are considered high risk and therefore eligible for the vaccine by this Thursday. You can get more information and register in advance of your vaccine eligibility date here:
I am still seeking clarity on the vaccination rollout for incarcerated Vermonters alongside Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint, Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George, the NAACP chapters, and other advocates.
Last week, the State Senate unanimously passed a bill getting $100 million out to Vermonters to continue building back a better Vermont. This bill will fund summer meals and programs for youth, advance increased nursing staff in our nursing homes for our elders, expand broadband and connectivity access through subsidies and improved infrastructure, provide college courses to recent high school graduates, and much more.
There are additional transformative investments I am pushing for, especially with our incoming federal dollars, that I hope we pass to provide targeted support to Vermonters. First, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to increase service opportunities with new AmeriCorps funding. I am seeking to advance a Green Rural Force program that would invest in place-based environmental service for low-income Vermonters, Vermonters of color, and Vermonters living in more isolated communities like mobile home parks.
We also need to recognize that such a large infusion of dollars requires greater study, planning, intergovernmental communication, and engagement to help absorb these dollars deeply into our most vulnerable and distressed communities. In order for us to know the value and impact of our one-time investments, we need greater data collection and shared indicators of progress. I am working on a bicameral effort with colleagues like Reps. Tiff Bluemle and Gabrielle Stebbins to advance a State Planning Office, as Vermont is a bit of an outlier in not having this connective tissue at the center of state government.
Speaking of investing in our economy, the Senate has now advanced S.10, a major unemployment bill. It provides permanent relief to businesses for this year's unemployment rate schedule, removing that amount owed from the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund. It also adds a five-year dependent benefit of $50 per week for unemployed Vermonters with children under 18 years. This pandemic has hit women and children particularly hard, and this is a critical change in line with many other states to provide additional relief for families in need.
Finally, I spent the morning outside of CVU with our hard-working educators calling on the legislature to slow down consideration of pension changes and bring all stakeholders to the table in a transparent process. We must have humanity for our educators and state employees who are working in tough jobs made tougher by the uncertainty of the pandemic. They have been there for all of us, and I plan to be there for them.
All the best,