Human Services

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House Appropriations sends state budget to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee gave unanimous approval Monday to a state budget plan that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenue and expenses without raising taxes and fees, a demand from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that has loomed over the Democratic majority for months. Overall, the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, opted to cut general fund spending by about $67 million. Another $5 million in revenue is expected to be generated through enhanced compliance of existing taxes. The plan was approved by the committee on a 11 to 0 vote Monday afternoon, and won the support of four Republican members. The House’s 2018 fiscal year spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, as Scott demanded. Continue Reading →

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State officials: GOP health plan could have dire consequences

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care officials on Friday detailed dire consequences, including the loss of as much as $200 million in annual federal funding, if the Republican health care plan proposed in Congress is enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, along with Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Cory Gustafson and Director of Health Care Reform Mary Kate Mohlman briefed reporters on the impact the American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, as some have taken to calling it, will have on Vermonters. Gobeille said the trio were not advocating for or against the proposal, but they had few positive points to make about the GOP proposal. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned heavily in last fall’s election on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The plan introduced earlier this week by Republicans in Congress seeks to do that. Continue Reading →

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Scott administration concerned with GOP health care bill in Washington

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s top health care official says the Scott administration is working quickly to assess the impact a GOP health care plan in Washington would have on the state if enacted. Agency of Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille said his team is reviewing the Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare. At first glance, Gobeille said, the plan could have significant negative impacts on Vermonters. After years of failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare during former Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure, the GOP now controls both chambers in Congress and the presidency. President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress campaigned on dumping the sweeping health care reform law Democrats enacted early in Obama’s presidency, and now the GOP has put forth a plan to do so. Continue Reading →

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Speaker, Pro Tem back governor’s plans to oppose Trump order

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the House and Senate say they are firmly behind Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s plans to oppose a presidential executive order that seeks the help of state and local law enforcement in targeting immigrants, among other things. Scott unveiled a series of actions Monday that he is taking to protect Vermonters and immigrants in response to an executive order signed Friday by Republican President Donald Trump. Scott called the order an “overreach” because it seeks help from state and local law enforcement “to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention of aliens in the United States.”

In announcing the steps his administration is taking, Scott vowed to “stand up for the rights and civil liberties of all those in our state.”

On Tuesday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said they support Scott’s efforts. “We look forward to partnering with the governor on insuring people’s civil rights,” Johnson said. Ashe, meanwhile, said the Senate is “happy” to see Scott taking action. Continue Reading →

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Delegation vows to fight refugee ban

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s congressional delegation is promising to stand up to a presidential executive order that will halt the arrival of Syrian refugees in Vermont and stop people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday afternoon indefinitely barring Syrians from entering the country and suspends all immigrants from entering the country for 120 days. Meanwhile, citizens of seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen are forbidden to the enter the U.S. for 90 days. People from those countries, as well as students, tourists and even those with legal permanent status in the U.S., were stopped at airports beginning Friday and prevented from entering the country. Some were sent back overseas. Continue Reading →

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Welch warns state lawmakers about pending health care changes

MONTPELIER — Congressman Peter Welch told Vermont lawmakers Wednesday that he is working to thwart Republicans from completely unraveling the Affordable Care Act, an action he said would be “one of the most reckless fiscal actions.”

Welch, a Democrat and the state’s lone member of the U.S. House, will begin serving under his third president Friday when Republican President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office. He was first elected in 2006, and served two years under President George W. Bush and eight years under President Barack Obama. During Obama’s tenure, House Republicans voted 65 times to repeal the federal Affordable Care Act, a landmark health care reform bill Obama signed into law. Now, with a Republican Congress and an incoming Republican Congress, Welch warned Wednesday that major changes are coming that could be disruptive to Vermonters and all Americans. “It’s as though the discussion is ideological, that getting rid of this will give people more freedom,” he told lawmakers. Continue Reading →

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Scott announces two cabinet posts, staff positions

MONTPELIER — Gov.-elect Phil Scott announced two major appointments to his cabinet Tuesday, naming current Deputy Attorney General Susanne Young as his secretary of the Agency of Administration and Green Mountain Care Board Chairman Al Gobeille as secretary of the Agency of Human Services. Scott, a Republican who defeated Democrat Sue Minter last month to become the state’s 82nd governor, announced the two cabinet-level appointments along with a trio of staff who will work in the governor’s office when Scott is sworn in early next month in a news release Tuesday afternoon. “Susanne and Al are both accomplished and highly respected leaders who share my focus on making Vermont’s economy stronger and our state more affordable for businesses and families,” Scott said in a statement. “Together, they will be a strong and dynamic team, working together to modernize state government, put our state budget on a more sustainable path and move our healthcare priorities forward.”

Young, 60, will become, will become one of the most influential people in state government. The Agency of Administration oversees most aspects of state government, including development of the state budget. Continue Reading →

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Contraceptives bill signed into law

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin signed legislation into law Monday that will eliminate co-pays and deductibles for contraceptives and ensure that vasectomies for men are now included in insurance coverage. Shumlin, a third-term Democrat who is not seeking re-election, signed H.620, on the steps of the State House Monday with lawmakers and representatives of Planned Parenthood looking on. He said the legislation moves Vermont in the right direction while some parts of the country are heading backward. “When we look around us here in 2016, here in America, and we look at the issue of reproductive rights and women’s health, it’s pretty darn shocking to this governor of Vermont when I see what’s going on with the rest of the country,” the governor said. “We have the presumptive [presidential] nominee of the Republican Party who has literally suggested that women should be punished should they seek an abortion. Continue Reading →

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Effort to bypass exchange for small business continues

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration and lawmakers are moving forward with efforts to scrap plans for the small business function on the state’s online health insurance marketplace. Under state law, small businesses are supposed to be enrolling employees through Vermont Health Connect, the state-based insurance exchange created under the federal Affordable Care Act. But the website, which launched in October 2013, has never included that online function, known as Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP. As a result, small businesses have enrolled employees directly through the two insurance carriers offering health plans on the exchange — Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont and MVP Health Care. Rep. William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, the chairman of the House Health Care Committee, has introduced a bill to allow the state to seek a so-called 1332 waiver to allow small businesses to continue enrollment directly through the carriers. Continue Reading →

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Gov council recommends steps to end poverty and homelessness

MONTPELIER — A governor-appointed council is issuing recommendations to end homelessness and poverty in Vermont. Members of the Governor’s Council on Pathways From Poverty discussed a recent report that seeks to end the cycle of poverty in the state and match people at risk of homelessness with permanent homes. “We have got to end the ceaseless cutting of the safety net in Vermont,” said Christopher Curtis, co-chairman of the Governor’s Council on Pathways From Poverty, and an attorney for Vermont Legal Aid. “We have seen, year after year, the drip-drip cuts to essential programs and services, and those are simply poor taxes,” Curtis continued. “In a state where we routinely hear Vermonters cannot afford anymore taxes, policymakers are levying taxes on those who can least afford to pay.”

Co-chairwoman Linda Ryan discussed the proposal to levy a tax of $2 per night on hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, which the council anticipates would raise $12 million annually. Continue Reading →

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