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News Roundup: Vermont Launches 'Upskill' Program, Offers Two Free College Courses For About 500 Residents

A yellow background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
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VPR

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways and more for Wednesday, July 14.

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As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and find the latest vaccination data online any time.

1. COVID-19 cases in New England, New York and Quebec more than doubled over the past two weeks

The number of new COVID-19 cases reported in New England, New York and Quebec has jumped by more than 50% over the past two weeks.

And Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak said Tuesday the Delta variant of the coronavirus is likely behind the rise.

"It’s a good reminder that Delta’s impact can be seen even in the most vaccinated region of the country, in part because even in New England, there are still 2.7 million individuals who are eligible for the vaccines but have not yet protected themselves,” Pieciak said.

Pieciak says the number of new COVID-19 cases in Vermont has risen modestly over the past two weeks.

But he says overall case counts in Vermont are still well below the threshold that would trigger the reinstatement of masking and distancing requirements.

Peter Hirschfeld

State officials report 19 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

State health officials reported 19 new COVID-19 infections Wednesday.

Four people are currently hospitalized with the virus in the state, with one in ICU.

82.9% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Karen Anderson

2. Health officials say they will unveil new COVID-19 protocols for Vt. schools in the fall

The Centers for Disease Control has released new COVID-19 guidance for k-through-12 schools in the U.S.

But public health officials in Vermont say they’ll wait until August to unveil protocols for public schools here.

Commissioner of Health Dr. Mark Levine says the prevalence of the virus in Vermont will figure heavily into decisions about masking and distancing.

"So all of that will be taken into account, and we feel it’s a little premature here in the beginning of July to really emphatically say what we’re going to say a month from now," Levine said.

The CDC guidance says that a return to in-person learning should be the main priority for public schools.

And the CDC is recommending a mask mandate for students over 2 years old who are not fully vaccinated.

Peter Hirschfeld

3. Rutland housing advocates express frustration over Gov. Scott's recent veto of housing bill

Housing advocates in Rutland are frustrated by Gov. Phil Scott's recent veto of a bill that would have enforced property safety, provide grants for landlords and set up a statewide rental registry.

Melanie Paskevich works for Neighborworks of Western Vermont. She says the lack of housing has become a crisis and bringing vacant units back online is crucial. She says a statewide list of rental properties would have sped that effort up.

“We don’t know who to talk to," Paskevich said. "We don’t know how to get in front of these landlords and if there was a registry, we could identify these landlords, reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, we have these lending opportunities, and we have maybe the grant dollars, we can help you fix up these units, we can, you know, help find, you know, renters if you need.”

Paskevich says last year, nearly $2 million in funding helped landlords in Addison, Rutland and Bennington Counties rehabilitate 70 units — largely targeting low-income renters.

She says Neighborworks and other housing organizations in Vermont were excited to continue that program.

"But once we heard the veto, it's kind of put a stop to everything," she said. "Which is very unfortunate because I can't say enough: again, the housing crisis, the need is there, the want is there.”

The governor has said despite his veto, funding to help landlords is included in the state budget — but Paskevich says it's insufficient.

Scott says the legislation would create more bureaucracy, and ultimately reduce the number of housing options in Vermont.

Nina Keck

4. Youth activists call for motel housing program to be reinstated

Young activists across Vermont are calling on Gov. Phil Scott to reinstate a motel housing program for about 700 people experiencing homelessness in Vermont.

The Scott administration expanded eligibility requirements for emergency housing during the pandemic.

But those expanded guidelines expired at the beginning of July.

Scott is standing by his decision to end the
program and says the state can’t afford to make those changes permanent.

"And we believe that going back to more traditional means of helping the homeless would be more beneficial to the individual — getting the wraparound services and so forth that they need," he said.

Addie Lentzner is a high school student in Bennington. Lentzner and other young Vermonters held a press conference Tuesday to urge the governor to rethink his decision.

“The fact that we’re ending it so soon is perhaps a testament to the fact that maybe Vermont only cares about the homeless when the whole world is in a crisis," Lentzner said.

Vermont Legal Aid has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Scott’s decision to wind down the motel housing program.

Housing advocates across the state have called on Scott to keep the expanded eligibility criteria.

Peter Hirschfeld

5. Two free college courses available to 500 Vermont residents through UVM, CCV seeking career changes

Gov. Phil Scott on Tuesday announced the state is launching a new job training program in partnership with the Community College of Vermont and the University of Vermont.

The program will offer two courses at no cost to about 500 Vermont residents. The initiative is being paid for with $4 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.

Classes, which are set to start this fall, are being offered in three areas: the digital economy, healthcare, and leadership and management.

Joyce Judy is president of the Community College of Vermont. She says the program is aimed at unemployed or underemployed residents who might be seeking a career change. But funding is limited.

"This is a time that makes higher education finally truly affordable in Vermont," Judy said. "Many of these courses, many of these opportunities are free. But step up now because this money won't be here, I can assure you, in the future.”

Scott said the program marks an important investment in Vermonters.

“As we recover from the pandemic, it's so important that we take advantage of all the funding opportunities that we've been handed to make transformative investments that will help us rebuild stronger than before,” Scott said.

Vermont is one of a handful of states to deploy programs aimed to re-skill workers.

Learn more here.

Marlon Hyde

6. Congressman Welch applauds passage of the For the People Act by the House

Congressman Peter Welch says the timely passage of a voting rights law is one of the most important issues facing Congress this summer.

Welch said the law is needed to offset an effort being made by Republican governors and GOP lawmakers in a number of states to restrict access to voting.

"So this is a direct effort inspired by former president Trump to win by limiting who can vote and the core component of our democracy is the right of each of us, who is entitled to vote, to be able to vote."

The legislation has passed the House and is awaiting consideration in the Senate where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is threatening a filibuster over this issue.

Backers of the For the People Act are urging Senate Democratic leaders to create an exemption to the filibuster rule for this bill.

Bob Kinzel

7. Welch calls for expansion of telehealth coverage under Medicare

Congressman Peter Welch wants to expand the use of telehealth services for the Medicare program.

The Biden Administration gave temporary approval to an expansion of these programs during the pandemic.

As the co-chair of the House Telehealth Committee, Welch is urging the Administration to make the move permanent.

"It really proved to be a very effective way of delivering services, so what we learned during COVID-19 is: telehealth works," Welch said. "And why in the world would we want to abandon some thing that has been so beneficial to patients and to providers?"

Welch says he's convinced that many Medicare patients will participate in preventative health programs if telehealth services are available.

Bob Kinzel

8. Barre Town residents call for a halt to logging in the town forest

Some residents in Barre Town are calling on the city to stop logging in the 380-acre Barre Town Forest.

VTDigger reports a petition to stop the tree harvesting has hundreds of signatures.

Logging is called for in the forest management plan developed in 2013. Barre Town Manager Carl Rodgers told the news outlet that the latest harvest brought in $27,000 for the town's general fund.

Some residents expressed concerns over the way logging was approached, including leaving large holes in the forest canopy.

VTDigger quoted a consulting forester who said the logging was conducted for economic reasons and to promote forest health.

The town is planning to hold a public discussion on the issue on August 3.

Brittany Patterson

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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