The year 2020 will go into the books as a memorable year. The pandemic has disrupted nearly every aspect of our lives. This is a tough time for many in our community, but it is inspiring to see how neighbors are helping neighbors – together we will get through this.
Data now shows that our shared sacrifice has been impactful: Vermont cases of COVID-19 have slowed considerably from initial estimates, sparing lives and mitigating the worst-case scenario of overrun hospitals and damage to our communities. The Governor recently extended the state of emergency to June 15th while also relaxing the stay at home order. He has announced that certain types of businesses, outdoor recreation and social interactions can resume, and that childcare centers can reopen starting June 1. More reopening is likely to follow.
I understand different people have different views on if/how/when we should reopen parts of Vermont. I’m sensitive to the concern of those who feel we need to move faster to restart our economy. I’m also in touch with a number of community members who want to make sure we don’t see increased community transmission of COVID-19. Even as doors are unlocked and “closed” signs come down, we need to remember that we all have a shared responsibility to our community’s health and safety. I encourage you to be in touch if you have questions or feedback as we move forward.
HELP WITH Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Over the past several weeks I have been hearing from constituents who have never faced a period of unemployment and have had to navigate a frustrating series of delays, technical problems, and other setbacks with filing unemployment claims with the Department of Labor. So far, I have been able to successfully resolve all of those cases.
If you are experiencing problems accessing unemployment insurance or supports through the Public Unemployment Assistance program, please reach out to me via email and I will do everything I can to get a second set of eyes on your case. Everyone should be able to quickly access the financial support they’re entitled to.
LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: FOCUSING ON THE MONEY BILLS
This past week the House passed the FY21 Capital bill which provides $75 million in investments in Vermont’s infrastructure and will provide critical support for our state’s rural economy as we work through the COVID-19 emergency. This bill came out of my committee where we prioritized investments in housing, agriculture, clean water projects, outdoor recreation industry and $1.5 million for needed mental health beds at Brattleboro Retreat. The House also passed the Transportation bill for FY21, where despite projected loss in revenue, we were able to preserve preserve municipal road funding and fund our greenhouse gas emission reduction policies.
In the House we are now turning our attention to crafting a state budget to fund operations for the first quarter of FY 2021 (July 1 – September 30) and the yield bill which sets the property tax rates based on the school budgets voted on by their communities. We are looking at ways to fill the $156 million revenue gap in the education fund caused by the sharp decline in consumption tax revenue (sales, rooms & meals tax). The shortfall is a COVID-19 problem, not a school spending problem. When students return to school, they are likely to need more assistance, not less, and we must ensure that we have the resources to allow schools to do what we are asking of them. The legislature and the Joint Fiscal Office have come up with seven potential scenarios and solutions, including finding legitimate to use some of the $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). If this isn’t viable, there is still the possibility of Washington relaxing the restrictions on current CRF funds and/or a new relief package. And there may be other options. As we take up this process, I want to hear from you. Please get in touch if you have any comments, questions, or requests.
COFFEE WITH COFFEY CONTINUES
I am now hosting my coffee hours on zoom on the first and third Sunday of each month during the legislative session – the next one happening this Sunday, June 7th from 3-4pm. I’ll be sharing updates and want to hear how folks are doing. I will be posting the link on my legislative Facebook page or send me an email and I can send you the link.
In spite of the pandemic,I remain hopeful. I am inspired by the resiliency and spirit of cooperation I see all around me. With these values of community, equality and innovation, I believe we’ll work our way past this current crisis and will build a strong, healthy Vermont and a brighter future for today and generations to come.
It’s an honor to serve as your State Representative in the Vermont Assembly. Please reach out to me anytime if you need help or want to share your ideas or concerns.
Stay safe and healthy and take good care!
Rep. Sara Coffey
Windham 1: Vernon, Guilford
Home phone: 802-257-0288