Human Services

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Contraceptives bill signed into law

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. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

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

VTHealthConnect

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

Christopher Curtis

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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Health care costs drive budget adjustment

Andy Pallito

MONTPELIER — Health care costs are are driving a proposed budget adjustment from the Governor’s Office to the tune of $70 million. The House Appropriations Committee spent Monday reviewing a proposal that would add an additional $88.9 million to the FY 2016 budget, with the lion’s share of the increase due to the state’s expansion of health care. Much of that will be covered by federal funding. “Of the 88.9 million, $70 million is for DVHA (Department of Vermont Health Access) or Medicaid,” said Andy Pallito, commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management. Since 2012, the state has made a concerted effort to provide health care for all Vermont residents. Continue Reading →

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Report outlines importance of SNAP benefits

WASHINGTON — A new report outlines the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Americans – and Vermonters – living in poverty. The report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers finds that SNAP – formerly known as food stamps – is a valuable tool to both ensure nutritional security for families and a tool to help lift those families out of poverty. “The large majority of SNAP recipients are children, working parents, elderly Americans, and people with disabilities,” the report states. “SNAP has also played an important role in lifting millions of people – especially children – out of poverty for the past five decades.”

According to the report, during the last year, SNAP lifted at least 4.7 million people out of poverty, including 2.1 million children. “This is a very important programs that supports a lot of Vermonters and does a lot of good,” said Sean Brown, deputy Commissioner for the Department For Children and Families, which oversees SNAP benefits in the state through the program 3SquaresVT. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Coalition seeks study, expansion of Dr. Dynasaur

Main Street Alliance State Director Lindsay Deslauriers (VPB/Neal Goswami)

https://youtu.be/-DVkj8Z5dJ0

WINOOSKI — A newly formed coalition of labor organizations, consumer groups and non-profits is asking lawmakers to consider expanding the state’s Dr. Dynasaur program for Vermonters through age 26, a request that has the backing of House Speaker Shap Smith. The group announced its new Dr. Dynasaur 2.0 campaign to convince lawmakers to study the expansion of the publicly funded health insurance program for Vermont kids and lower-income pregnant women at a Winooski news conference Wednesday. The program currently covers children through age 18. By expanding the program through age 26, Vermonters and the state’s employers could save thousands in premium costs, Main Street Alliance State Director Lindsay Deslauriers said. “Health insurance is expensive and since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, even with insurance, health care is expensive,” she said. Continue Reading →

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Embezzlement threatens Hunger Free Vermont

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MONTPELIER — Hunger Free Vermont is in dire need of donations as federal authorities investigate a long-term embezzlement that sapped its cash reserves, according to Executive Director Marissa Parisi. The theft was discovered about a month ago by the group’s local bank branch after irregularities in a checking account were spotted, according to Parisi. The extent of the theft is still being determined, she said. “We’re still going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and we’re working with federal authorities,” Parisi said. “It’s likely in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Continue Reading →

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Story + Video: Shumlin says $8.4 million needed to boost child protection

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https://youtu.be/CLL6zC-3XfU

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday laid out an $8.4 million plan to add 35 workers at the Department for Children and Families as well as an additional superior court judge and increased resources for the Defender General and State’s Attorneys Offices because of a growing demand for child protection services. Shumlin, speaking at a State House news conference, said the state’s child welfare system has struggled to keep pace with an influx of cases related to substance abuse, and opiate addiction in particular. The number of children in state custody has ballooned from 982 in September 2013 to 1,373 as of this past September. The increase, according to Shumlin, is largely driven by parents addicted to opiates. A DCF survey of cases found that 80 percent of cases involving children under the age of three were the result of opiate abuse. Continue Reading →

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State to try new drug to fight opiate addiction

Peter Shumlin

MONTPELIER — The state will begin offering a drug to inmates leaving prison that blocks the brain’s pleasure center, with the goal of reducing relapses into opiate addiction. Beginning in January, inmates leaving Marble Valley Correctional Facility will have access to naltrexone, a drug that prevents a user from feeling high when ingesting an opiate such as heroin or oxycodone. So far, the state has trained 50 health care providers to prescribe naltrexone, a drug that is administered once a month by injection; however, no special training needed and the drug can be administered by any prescriber. Currently, the drug is approved for use in treating alcoholism and opiate addiction. While the drug itself is not new — some doctors have been prescribing the drug all along — the state is looking to expand its use in the hope of curbing the state’s opiate epidemic. Continue Reading →

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Commentary: Lara’s Legacy

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lancing through my morning paper the other day, an entry in the “police log” caught my eye, and not in a good way. It read “A woman threatened to ‘go all Jody Herring’ on a Department for Children and Families caseworker.” It was a harsh reminder of how important VSEA’s current campaign to enhance on-the-job safety for DCF workers is. But this group of workers is not alone. VSEA members working in the Employment Services Division, Office of Child Support, Probation and Parole, Corrections and other agencies and departments throughout state government have also told their union that they would like improved on-the-job safety. VSEA members recognize that our request for increased worker safety protections will cost money, but another Lara Sobel tragedy is something no one wants, and, judging by the newspaper entry I told you about (and other scary incidents workers have been told me about), time is particularly of the essence here. Continue Reading →

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