Vermont has flattened the curve significantly in our fight against Covid-19. It is no surprise that we have seen fewer cases and even fewer deaths over the last few weeks, and I attribute this to Governor Scott and his team’s hard work and precautions. Now we are ready as a state to open back up cautiously and responsibly. On Monday, Governor Scott announced opening up retail establishments across the state. It is a step in the right direction to get our economy back on track.
The state unemployment claims are beginning to be resolved, however the process is still taking some time to complete. I have heard from many constituents that they are still waiting on a response from the Vermont Department of Labor. I am still making myself available to help my fellow neighbors with any issues with Unemployment Insurance claims. I have submitted over 100 claims for constituents having problems receiving their benefits. The system in place isn’t perfect, and some people are waiting longer than expected, but with the new Legislative Action Team more people are helping to resolve claims quicker. If you have any issues please reach out to me via email at [email protected].
On Friday Senate Bill S.346 unanimously passed the Vermont State Senate. This bill is a $60 million relief bill to pay “essential workers” who have been on the frontlines of the Covid-19 crisis since it began in March. The bill would grant an additional $600-$1,000 a month to a long list of potential candidates including health care workers, trash collectors, grocery store staff, child care workers, and nursing home staff. This bill is currently in House Commerce and has yet to reach the House Floor.
In House Education we have been concerned with nineteen school districts who haven’t passed their budgets. All school budgets must be passed by June 30th. Currently the state has a budget shortfall of $54 million in the Education Fund in FY2020 and an anticipated $113 million shortfall in FY2021. This is a decline of 12.5% in spending levels which causes concerns for property tax payers and school boards across the state. There are some federal funds available to help with Covid related issues, but those funds are limited. Vermont has been allocated $31.15 million that can go towards elementary and secondary schools, and $22.42 million allocated towards higher education. This money is marked to help schools with Covid-19 related problems and to help schools who transitioned to online learning.
The Vermont State Colleges are working on keeping their campuses open. After public feedback proved the importance of our college system, they have hired an independent consultant to review the finances of each college. As a graduate of Castleton I realize the importance of our Vermont State College system, but we need to make sure we can make these colleges sustainable. These colleges are the states best attempts at workforce development; educating and retaining a workforce is vital to our states future.
We are slowly getting back to work and beginning to cope with our new norm. There are still a lot of unanswered questions and uncertainty, specifically when we talk about tax revenues and unanticipated shortfalls. The Vermont Legislature is the most open it has ever been streaming online meetings that are accessible to everyone at any time on YouTube. I encourage everyone to take a watch and see how the state operates, especially during a pandemic. I want to say thank you again for allowing me to serve this community. We are in this together and together we will get through this.
Representative Casey J. Toof
Franklin 3-1 St. Albans