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News Roundup: Montgomery Runner Qualifies For The Summer Olympics in Tokyo

An orange background with vermont news round up written, with a small green graphic of vermot on the "R" of roundup
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the U.S. Olympic trials and more for Tuesday, June 22.Want VPR's daily news in podcast form? Get up to speed in under 15 minutes withThe Frequency every weekday morning. How about an email newsletter?Add our daily email briefing to your morning routine.

As Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended and coronavirus restrictions lifted statewide, we will no longer be reporting daily case numbers at the top of this newsletter. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. Vermont continues to see COVID-19 cases decline

Vermont over the last week saw its fewest number of new COVID-19 cases in more than nine months.

And Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak says the state now leads the country in almost all of the key pandemic benchmarks.

“The highest vaccination rates, the lowest cases, the fewest hospitalizations, and for the second week in a row, zero COVID-19 fatalities,” Pieciak said.

Pieciak attributes low case counts in Vermont to its high vaccination rate, which now stands at 81.3% of all residents age 12 and older.

Pieciak says COVID-19 case counts in other northeast states are also on the decline.

- Peter Hirshfeld  

2. Montgomery's Elle Purrier is headed to the Olympics

Gov. Phil Scott is congratulating the latest Vermonter to win a spot in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next month.

Elle Purrier St. Pierre, of Montgomery, won the 1,500-meter  finals at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials on Monday night, running a time of 3:58.03, a personal best for the Vermonter.

Scott said he watched St. Pierre win her race: “Very exciting for her, for Vermont,” he said. “I can’t think of a better person to represent us and it does make us all want to watch at this point.”

St. Pierre will join Burlington native Ilona Maher in Tokyo. Maher was named to the U.S. women’s Rugby Sevens team earlier this spring.

- Peter Hirschfeld and Karen Anderson

3. Advocates say Vt. is experiencing a shortage of foster homes

There is an urgent need for foster parents in Vermont, especially for teens.

Rebecca Fitzsimmons is a resource coordinator for Vermont’s Department of Children and Families in Rutland.

She says the number of teens who need a foster home has increased since the pandemic. And because many are struggling with mental health challenges, finding foster families can be difficult.

“So we absolutely need homes that can provide stability and safety for kids and youth who have been removed from their family because of abuse and neglect,” Fitzsmmons said. “And we need the communities in Vermont to step up, through providing safe care.”

Fitzsimmons said her office currently has seven teenagers who need a home, but she says the shortage of foster families is a crisis statewide.

- Nina Keck

More from VPR: New Rutland Mobile Response Teams Aim To Reduce ER Wait Times For Kids Seeking Mental Health Care

4. Vt. lawmakers to convene later this week to attempt to override vetoes

Vermont lawmakers will reconvene later this week to try to override three gubernatorial vetoes.

But the House and Senate also plan to pass a housing bill that failed to make it across the finish line during the regular legislative session.

Waterbury Representative Tom Stevens says the bill would create a registry of all rental units in the Vermont.

“It’s been really frustrating,” he said. “When you’re trying to do housing policy and you don’t know which communities have how much housing that’s rental property.”

House Republicans blocked passage of the bill in May.

GOP lawmakers say the rental registry would create new costs and hassle for landlords. And they say it would discourage property owners from making apartments available to rent.

Gov. Phil Scott said during a press conference Tuesday that he doesn’t support the measure.

“It creates more bureaucracy, it creates more expense on the state level – millions of dollars,” he said. “And I don’t think that we’ve fully contemplated how much that will, in effect, cost us.”

The legislation would require all landlords in the state to pay an annual fee of $35 per rental unit.

Lawmakers want to use the money to enforce health and safety standards for rental housing.

- Peter Hirschfeld

More from VPR: Vermont Tenants Are Still Waiting For Assistance As The End Of Eviction Ban Draws Closer

5. Housing advocates say emergency rent assistance program isn't distributing funds fast enough

Housing advocates say Vermont's emergency rent assistance program isn't getting funds distributed fast enough.

The clock is ticking on federal and state orders that stopped evictions for more than a year due to the pandemic. The federal moratorium is set to expire at the end of June. Vermont’s eviction ban will expire on July 15.

Grace Pazdan, an attorney at Vermont Legal Aid, says tenants and landlords are having trouble navigating the program. She says case managers, who are out-of-state, need more training – and that’s led to tenants getting stuck in the system.

One problem: “The folks at the call center don't necessarily have accurate information about what the holdup is with applications,” she said.

Vermont State Housing Authority administers the program. VSHA says they meet with case managers multiple times a week to make sure they're following the right procedures.

Read or listen to the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

6. Sen. Sanders scores key support for plan to expand Medicare benefits

Senator Bernie Sanders' plan to significantly expand Medicare benefits has gotten a big boost – it's now being backed by Senate Majority leader Charles Schumer.

Under Sanders' proposal, Medicare would offer dental, hearing and vision benefits.

Sanders wants to include the plan as part of the Democrats' massive infrastructure bill and Schumer has endorsed this idea.

"A healthy society is ‘infrastructure’ and that means that older people should not have to have teeth in their mouths that are rotting, should be in the position to get the hearing aids and the eyeglasses that they need,” Sanders said.

Sanders wants to pay for the new benefits by allowing the federal government to negotiate Medicare prescription drug costs with the pharmaceutical industry.

- Bob Kinzel

More from VPR: 'The Racism Pandemic': Advocates Hope New Commission Will Improve Health Equity In Vermont

7. Green Mountain Power to experiment with new environmental mitigation measure in Guilford

The state’s largest electric utility has agreed to put environmental protection covers on any new utility pole that is within 50 feet of streams or wetlands.

Chris Campany is with the Windham Regional Commission, which challenged Green Mountain Power over a proposed project in Guilford.

“There were environmental concerns,” Campany said. “So if this is a solution to that, you would think that this could possibly speed up permitting."

Campany says, as Vermont tries to expand broadband into rural areas, the new policy could make it easier to install poles in environmentally sensitive areas.

GMP says the Guilford project will be monitored to see how the environmental sleeves protect nearby water quality.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Abagael Giles compiled and edited this post.

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