Let me open tonight with a question for you that I have gotten from two constituents in the last 24 hours: for people with a philanthropic bend, where can they be directed in our four towns? Please send in your ideas. The Thetford Food Shelf is an easy one in Thetford, but if you have other suggestions for organizations in our towns that will put cash immediately to work helping people in the COVID-19 crisis, please let me know. I will pass your ideas along and want to have them at the ready next time I'm asked.
Things I learned today that might be helpful information to you:
First, on a conference call of House leadership this morning we discussed the legislative path forward, including on some issues near and dear to municipal government. This weekend I will be working with VT Senators on legislation already passed by the House that will be amended by the Senate. Partnering with the Senate at this juncture will allow the House to concur by voice vote with the Senate changes and get the legislation on the governor's desk asap. The legislation will likely expand the unemployment benefits from the House bill in-line with federal changes just approved by Congress; fund a VT Economic Development Authority emergency loan program for small businesses; allow for more access to paid family leave (again to enhance federal changes passed by Congress); alleviate some of the remote Open Meeting Law challenges you've faced in the last week; and provide more funding for local food banks.
Second, today I came across a much better description of the Federal legislation on paid family leave and paid sick leave than I penned last evening. It was written by the attorney's at Downs Rachlin Martin. There's a link to it here. Also, here's a link to a much more detailed, but still readable, description of Congress' bill which includes a description of some of the social programs funded in the legislation.
Third, the Dept. of Labor just announced that they will now be open on Saturdays to take unemployment insurance applications. Here's a link to the press release with contact information.
Fourth, the Small Business Administration today approved the governor's request for disaster assistance under SBA's Economic Injury Disaster Loans program. With this qualification, small businesses in Vermont may now apply for these low cost loans of up to $2 million. An announcement and links to application information can be found here.
Fifth, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Vermont's largest health insurer made several announcements in the last 24 hours. They are beginning an emergency COVID-19 special open enrollment period today for uninsured Vermonters to enroll through the online Exchange. This open enrollment period will last through April 17th. BCBS is also enhancing the flexibility of their pharmaceutical benefits including providing home delivery, expanding the size of refills of up to a 90-day supply, and increasing flexibility for pharmacists to refill certain prescriptions.
Sixth, here's a link to your daily State Emergency Operations Center executive summary document.
Seventh, I participated in two conversations with the Department of Health today on their COVID-19 testing protocol and the process by which samples are tested. Here is a link to a Department of Health document that describes the protocol and process.
Finally, our health care institutions, whether doctors offices or hospitals, are under extreme financial distress even before the wave of infections and admissions occurs in the next two weeks. Under CDC guidance, primary care doctors and hospitals for the last two weeks have been indefinitely deferring elective and non-critical medical procedures and treatment to clear the decks for COVID-19 patients and to reduce the level of community infections. The financial result for hospitals and clinics has been a collapse in revenues as their most profitable patients stay away. Our already fragile rural primary care practices and hospitals are in tough financial shape as the COVID-19 crisis ramps up. It's something I'm hoping we address in the bill we put on the governor's desk next week.
Have a good evening,