Of the constituents who have called or emailed me in the last three days, 80% have issues with the unemployment insurance system and concerns about the delay in the federal stimulus checks promised weeks ago. We know tonight that the federal stimulus checks to households making less than $75,000 will be delayed several more days as the as the IRS reconfigures their printing so that the name "President Donald J. Trump" can appear on the left side of the payment.
First, the Vermont Secretary of Agriculture released this directive on Friday which requires the continued closure of farmers markets. The directive also states that "while farmers markets are temporarily closed, farmers can and should continue selling food to consumers. Farms are critically important and agriculture continues. Indeed, farmers’ contributions are self evident in this time of need. Farmers can and should sell food through farm stands (with appropriate social distancing), online food sales, phone orders, curbside pick-up, and delivery. CSAs are also explicitly listed as a critical service."
Second, yesterday the VT Department of Labor received over 700,000 calls as that agency is overwhelmed with people looking for help through unemployment insurance. They were able to handle approximately 11,000 of those calls. The VT DOL unofficially estimates the state's unemployment rate is now over 20% and could reach 30% before the "stay home/stay safe" emergency order is lifted. I have posted a number of links at the Jim and Tim Report to help folks navigate UI claims. Please send people who are having difficulty my way. I've got a long list of folks I'm helping navigate this process.
Third, FEMA has put out a directive advising communities on reimbursement for food expenditures to support vulnerable populations who do not have access to food because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep this link handy if your town is purchasing food for distribution or to support a local food shelf. In other food news, the State Emergency Operation Center is working with the VT Food Bank on a FEMA request for Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and with Area Agencies on Aging on a plan to distribute 20,000 frozen meals. For those of you involved in school nutrition programs, the Agency of Education recently put out this FAQ document to aid school leaders.
Fourth, in election news the VT Secretary of State's office received a $3 million grant to support the August and November elections during the pandemic. He released this opinion piece yesterday regarding his commitment to making ballots available to all Vermonters regardless of their health status, while supporting the safety of Town Clerks and election workers during the public health crisis.
Fifth, I know that some folks are nervous about donating blood during the COVID emergency and we have some local blood drives planned in April and early-May. The following statement is from the VT Emergency Management Department: "As of March 19, there is no data or evidence that this coronavirus can be transmissible by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases worldwide of transmissions for any respiratory virus including this coronavirus. Donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give or receive blood, platelets, or AB Elite plasma." More information on donating blood can be found here.
Sixth, in the realm of how our current and post-pandemic world might be tracked, here is information that Google recently released regarding movements of Vermonters between February 23rd and April 5th.
Seventh, most of you see the statistics that come out of the Department of Health daily. The one that I've been paying the most attention to is hospitalizations, and the trends have been encouraging in recent days. As of 4pm today, 64 people were being hospitalized with confirmed and unconfirmed cases of COVID-19. Vermont hospitals have 713 hospital beds available, including 59 ICU beds and 146 isolation beds. These figures do not include the recently built surge capacity, nor beds in close-by NH hospitals.
Finally, someone said to me at the beginning of April that if you don't know someone with COVID-19, in the next week, you will. And if you don't know someone who has died from COVID-19, you will in the next two weeks. Sadly, they were right on both counts. Last week we lost former state representative Bernie Juskiewicz. He was beloved in State House, at UVM where he was a trustee, and in Cambridge, VT, his hometown since 1977. He was a Little League coach, a fierce advocate for public education, and a husband and father of three girls. A wonderful, gracious man.
Thanks for all you're doing. Have a good evening and stay safe.