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News Roundup: Many Parts Of Vermont Remain In Longest Drought Since At Least 2000

A red 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 cyanobacteria blooms, drought, new funding for Vermont's meat processors and more for Monday, July 12.

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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's AG says he opposes new Purdue Pharma bankruptcy plan

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan says a bankruptcy plan announced last week by the owners of Purdue Pharma is insufficient for what Vermont needs to combat the opioid crisis.

A deal announced this week would have the Sackler family, founders of the company that makes Oxycontin, pay a settlement of over $4 billion. It was agreed to by 15 states, but nine states – including Vermont – opposed the plan.

Donovan says the state would receive just $13 million over nine years. He says that's not enough.

“We need to make sure that we're investing in prevention, that we're investing in treatment, that we're giving people the opportunity to get into enter recovery, and lead productive lives here, as Vermonters,” Donovan said. “That costs money."

Donovan says he'll continue to negotiate as the plan winds through the courts.

Listen to the full interview.

— Henry Epp

2. Agency of Agriculture to distribute at least $500,000 in grants to meat processors

The state is preparing to distribute at least half a million dollars to slaughterhouses and meat processors after the pandemic pushed more Vermonters to seek out local meat.

According to a recent reportfrom the state agriculture agency, pandemic era news about food shortages, coronavirus outbreaks at large plants and food safety concerns drove people to buy meat produced closer to home.

That’s exactly what AnnaJo Smith has seen. She’s a livestock farmer and co-founder of the Vermont Food Collaborative in New Haven, which opened in November 2019 as a retail outlet, so customers didn’t need to drive to individual farms. They then expanded to provide meat processing capacity for nearby slaughter facilities.

Smith says demand went way up during the pandemic, and continues to be high.

“Consumers wanting more local products definitely hit an all-time high. I've been selling meat for years. And so I you know, seeing that trend, it was substantial ... And even this year, we're noticing that a lot of those customers are sticking with it," she said.

This past spring, Vermont lawmakers designated at least $500,000 for meat processing and slaughterhouses. The state expects applications for the grants to open by late summer.

— Elodie Reed

3. Many parts of Vermont remain in the longest period of drought since at least 2000

Much of Vermont remains in drought conditions.

The Northeast Kingdom, the Upper Valley and much of Central Vermont and Chittenden County are all experiencing a moderate drought, according to the latest update from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Southern Vermont is faring better.

An estimated 370,000 Vermonters live in areas experiencing drought conditions. This is the state's longest drought since the Monitor launched in 2000.

The National Weather Service says that there is a chance of rain nearly every day this week for much of the state.

Anna Van Dine

More from VPR: 'Next Two Weeks Will Be Critical For The Region': As Drought Worsens Across The Northeast

4. Vermont sees 8 new COVID-19 cases Monday

State health officials reported eight new COVID-19 infections today Monday.

Currently five people are hospitalized due to the virus, with one in the ICU.

82.6% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

— Karen Anderson

5. Gov. Scott appointed to President's Council of Governors

Gov. Phil Scott has been appointed by President Joe Biden to the President's Council of Governors.

Ten governors were selected for 2-year terms on the body, which aims to work with federal officials on issues ranging from border security, to disaster preparedness, to pandemic response.

Scott joins other Republican governors on the council, like Ohio's Mike DeWine and Tennessee's Bill Lee.

The council's Democratic governors include Delaware's John Carney and Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer.

Matthew Smith

6. Low-income Vermonters could soon pay less for health insurance, thanks to ARPA

A provision in the American Rescue Plan Act means that thousands of Vermonters are newly eligible for health insurance subsidies, and the Scott administration is planning a series of virtual town halls to make residents aware.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, created new insurance subsidies for low-income Vermonters.

But those benefits were only available to people who made less than four-times the federal poverty level, which amounts to $51,000 a year for individuals, or about $100,000 for a family of four.

Sean Sheehan is with the Vermont Department of Health Access. Sheehan says that under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, insurance subsidies are now available to individuals making up to $100,000, and families of four could have a household income of up to a quarter million dollars and still be eligible.

“If you earned a few dollars more than that, you know, you got zero,” Sheehan said. “It was a big cliff. That cliff has been replaced with a phase out.”

Sheehan says Vermonters can check out the new plan prices at the Vermont Health Connect website.

“Now that the math has changed and it’s going to be costing less than it has for the plans than it would have at any time in the last decade, it’s worth it for [Vermonters] to come and take another look,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan says people can find out how to receive those subsidies at a town hall hosted by his department on July 28.

Find more information, here.

— Peter Hirschfeld

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

7. State of Vermont announces $6 million in funding for new trails, outdoor recreation

Vermont’s Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation this week announced $6 million in funding to help nonprofits and towns fund trail and other outdoor recreation projects.

The programs are intended to spur economic development.

Sherry Winnie manages the Recreational Trails Program. She says 2020 was a banner year for trail use.

“We lost a lot of capacity last year, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, of being able to send people out or work crews out, and to get people on the ground, to help maintain trails that we normally would be doing," Winnie said. "So there was a lot of impact from people using the trails.”

The agency will hold the first of several informational meetings on July 19.

Abagael Giles

8. Burlington beaches close Monday due to cyanobacteria blooms

The City of Burlington on Monday afternoon closed all swimming areas within the city limits due to the presence of cyanobacteria blooms.

Also called "blue-green algae" — the blooms were identified in Lake Champlain at Oakledge and Leddy parks, as well as North and Texaco Beaches.

Algal blooms sometimes produce toxins that are harmful to dogs and people and often occur later in the summer, when runoff and heat create prime water conditions for the algae.

The Vermont Department of Health recommends that people do not swim where blooms are active. Boating through blooms is also not recommended, as it can aerate water.

Blooms were also observed Monday at Charlotte's Town Farm Bay and Cedar Island areas, according to the Vermont Cyanobacteria tracker.

Small amounts of cyanobacteria were also noted at Alburgh Dunes State Park.

Abagael Giles

This post was compiled by digital producer Abagael Giles

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