The legislature recessed last Friday to work remotely and I can't believe the speed of change since then. While working to develop responsive policy, I’m continuing to gather and share information regarding the impact COVID-19 has on our community. I’m posting daily on facebook and available via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) anytime. There are many many links at the bottom of this message for you to do your own fact finding. This post is extensive with sections on economic challenges, housing, small business, utilities, seniors, access to healthcare, schools and childcare, community response, reliable links, and some poetry. Please feel free to read top to bottom or scroll until you find what meets your needs.
As many of you know, Governor Scott provided additional guidance this week that included limiting gatherings to less than 10 people and closing schools, child care centers, bars, and restaurants until at least April 6th. Many of us have already had our lives impacted dramatically by these developments. In addition to my work as a legislator, I’m managing changes in service provision at my other job. I’m part of many of our communities rapid response systems, and ensuring that the folks we serve aren’t experiencing any more deprivations than they were already living through.
I’m thinking of you all and your families as you try to adjust and cope. I recognize that many may already be struggling to meet basic needs. Please let me know how I can help connect you with resources or each other.
To stay connected, I’ll be holding regular zoom calls with our other Brattleboro legislators on Saturdays at 9am, to provide further updates, collect your questions, and answer as many of them as I can. I’ve been posting daily on my facebook page, and am offering moments of beauty on instagram for respite. I’m also continuing my weekly radio show/podcast, and considering some facebook live events.
Yours in Solidarity,
In all this uncertainty I’ve found such respite from the strength of our Community Response to this crisis.
We’ve put in place some amazing resources in the last few days including food delivery from Foodworks/Groundworks, safe housing for folks who aren’t housed, expanding Senior Meal delivery, and we’re working on childcare. All of these programs rely on volunteers in the best of times, and right now we’re trying to staff them up to support their expanded services— the more we can streamline the process the less the burden on frontline staff.
This is a one stop portal to ask for and provide help. Please consider filling out this survey if you’re able. The incredible team working on it will be in touch and connect you to resources in our community.
If you have a need or are able to fill a need just ask—- HERE.
As a result of closures and social distancing measures, many workers have already been affected.
Unemployment and underemployment benefits are available and we’re working to expand access to them and loosen requirements for COVID-19-related situations. We have heard reports that these phone lines are jammed at times— the Department of Labor is hiring additional workers to handle the volume of calls and set up an electronic option. You can apply either online or by phone.
Eligibility has been significantly expanded to include folks who leave work for health reasons, to care for children, or for business shut-downs and reductions. Work search and return to work requirements are temporarily suspended. If you are out of work, or even if your hours or incomes have reduced due to COVID, please apply.
For people looking for more information on how they may be impacted, the Department encourages them to visit labor.vermont.gov. Further updates and information will be provided as they become available.
Full-Service Filing of Claims: 1-877-214-3330 (individuals should try this line first)
Supplemental Initial Claim Intake: 1-888-807-7072
A ban on evictions and foreclosures requires detailed legislative action, and might be coming in the future. In the meantime please talk with your creditors— either bank or credit union— about car, truck, home or credit card. I know the natural temptation is to avoid those conversations but they’re working with customers in this difficult time. If they aren’t flexible please be in touch and I can help you file a complaint with the Department of Financial Regulation and the Banking Association.
DFR, along with other state regulators, the FDIC, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and others, recognize the potential for COVID-19 to adversely affect the customers and operations of financial institutions. DFR encourages financial institutions to take steps to meet the financial services needs of affected customers and communities. The Department will provide appropriate regulatory assistance to affected financial institutions subject to their supervision, as warranted.
Additionally, the VT Supreme Court declared a Judicial Emergency on March 16 through April 15, unless extended. All non-emergency Superior Court hearings, whether evidentiary or non-evidentiary, will be postponed. The Order makes exceptions for high-priority cases that must be heard. All Judicial Bureau hearings are postponed. This includes evictions and foreclosures. More details here.
Employers and Independent Contractors
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development is asking Vermont businesses to share COVID-19 virus impacts through a dedicated email address: email@example.com. The Agency has also established a hotline so that businesses may call to report impacts and be directed to resources: (802) 461-5143. The hotline will be staffed Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. The state has been approved for SBA disaster relief funding that may be an additional source of assistance. Future federal action may also free up unemployment insurance eligibility for self-employed workers. Please note that many independent contractors are technically small businesses.
The Vermont Economic Development Authority has outlined a proposed emergency, low-interest loan program for Vermont businesses to enable them to weather cash flow shortages caused in part COVID 19. We will keep you posted on this and other potential forms of relief, including further grants from the federal Small Business Administration, as they become available.
Employers seeking support with Unemployment Assistance (Unemployment Claims) can call: 1-877-214-3331. Please note- legislation currently pending in the Vermont Legislature includes forgiveness on any changes to employer’s experience rating related to COVID layoffs.
You can find additional guidance for small businesses on the Attorney General’s website, including important reminders regarding labor laws and price gouging.
Utilities (electric, phone, internet)
The Public Utility Commission has ordered a stoppage of all electric and water utilities shut-offs. Green Mountain Power and Vermont Gas had already suspended shut-offs. Pending state and federal legislation is working to provide relief from evictions, utilities shut-offs, and other forms of foreclosure and debt. This is a moving target and we recognize the critical importance of providing maximum relief to all people who are faced with dramatically shifting circumstances, as well as those who were previously experiencing hardships and vulnerabilities that will be compounded by this situation.
Additionally Comcast’s existing Internet Essentials program that is 9.99 a month and available to low-income folks is ordinarily at such slow speeds that many people don’t find it a useful service. Due to COVID and the number of people (including youth) expected to work from home they’ve doubled the speed and are offering two months free for eligible people who sign up now. Please make no mistake, they are famous for raising rates without adequate notice and buyers should beware but this is an available resource for those who need it.
The Senior Help Line is coordinated by the Vermont Areas Agencies on Aging and can provide information and referral for caregiver support, health insurance counseling, transportation, senior nutrition programs including meals on wheels, adult day programs, home health services, housing alternatives, and exercise and wellness programs. The Senior Help Line number is 1-800-642-5119. They can connect you with opportunities in our area that our adapted to our changing times such as pharmacy delivery.
Access to Healthcare
Start with your PCP, if you don’t have a PCP call the central intake line at BMH and they will expedite the usual screening/intake process. Many telemedicine options have been expanded significantly through a legislative rules change process and will be expanded further with upcoming legislation.
Brattleboro Memorial Hospital now has car-side Coronavirus testing, if needed and referred by a PCP. Check out the BMH website where new content is regularly added - www.bmhvt.org/coronavirus.
If you’ve recently left your job, that is considered a “change in circumstance,” and you are eligible to enroll on the Vermont Health Exchange including Medicaid. You can apply here.
If you are concerned about our health care workforce: Licensing regulations have been loosened to bring more people into the healthcare workforce including home health care workers. Some of this was done through rule changes by the Secretary of State and some more is proposed in legislation that hasn’t yet been signed into law. We are closely monitoring the need for crucial supplies.
Schools and Childcare
The State of Vermont is helping to ensure eligible essential workers responding to the COVID-19 emergency can focus on their jobs and not worry about the care and safety of their children. While both our school and childcare centers shut down, essential workers are eligible for childcare: ages 3 months to 8th grade. Please note that the list of essential workers is extensive and includes grocery store employees, custodial staff, and many State of Vermont employees, as well as health care and emergency personnel.
Essential workers who need help finding childcare should visit the following links and someone will be in touch shortly to find you an appropriate location.
If you are able to offer childcare, please reach out the volunteer portal mentioned elsewhere in this document. Childcare programs (including home based childcare) with questions should call or email the Child Development Division: 800-649-2642 (option 3) or this weblink.
Schools with questions should contact the Agency of Education: 802-828-1130
A list of essential positions that qualify for services can be found here.
Reliable information is essential in times of disconnection and rapid change, these links are all updated daily with reliable information. If you need information or a resource that you don’t see covered here, please reach out. I have lists of virtual recovery resources, food access points, virtual yoga, kids read alongs, and more than I can possibly fit in a newsletter.
- World Health Organization
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Vermont Department of Health
- Brattleboro Memorial Hospital
- Vermont Governor Phil Scott: Executive Orders
- Town of Brattleboro
- Vermont 211: Resource Referral
- Vermont Agency of Education
- Windham Southeast School District Coronavirus Updates
- Food resources from WSESD or Groundworks
- Vermont Department of Labor
- Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and VT ACCD COVID-19 newsletter sign-up
- VT Digger COVID-19 page and VTDigger COVID-19 newsletter sign-up
If you have a need or are able to fill a need just ask- HERE.
And finally, some beauty
By Rev Dr. Lynn Ungar
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love--
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.