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News Roundup: State Utility Commission Adopts Rule Requiring Financial Assistance Info Prior To Shutoff

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 an emergency rule from the Public Utility Commission and more for Tuesday, July 13.

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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. PUC adopts rule requiring utilities to inform customers of financial assistance before shutting off service

The Public Utility Commission has adopted an emergency rule that requires gas, electric and telephone companies to let consumers know about financial assistance programs before turning off their service.

A moratorium on service disconnections that was put in place during the pandemic is expiring this week.

The new rule, approved on Friday, says utilities must let consumers know about state-sponsored COVID relief programs before turning off service.

Service must also be maintained while a consumer is applying for the special COVID relief money.

The emergency rule remains in effect for six months, or until the PUC withdraws it.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Unhoused Vermonters seeking eligibility for continued emergency housing

A Vermont official says about 40 people experiencing homelessness who had been scheduled to lose their pandemic-related emergency hotel rooms in Vermont on July 1 are seeking to be verified as having a disability allowing them to stay longer.

Late last month a federal court judge signed an agreement, extending the emergency housing for two weeks for some people to show they can remain eligible.

That came after Vermont Legal Aid sued the state alleging the changes violate Vermont law and have a restrictive definition of what qualifies as a disability.

About 700 people were expected to lose their hotel rooms on July 1.

- Associated Press

More from VPR: 'No Place To Go': As State Of Emergency Ends, So Does Stable Housing For Some Vermonters

2. Senior groups returning, slowly, to regular activities

While much of Vermont is opening up after the state lifted all COVID restrictions, groups that work with the senior population say it will take a little bit longer to get back to normal.

After 15 months of being shut down, only five people showed up for the first meal at the Brattleboro Senior Center last week.

And Cynthia Fisher, who helps run the program, says she was not surprised:

“We had heard that the seniors, as much as they wanted to come in for the congregate dining again, they’re a little bit apprehensive, and so they’re coming in slowly."

Many senior programs around the state are waiting until later this summer to begin in-person programming.

Read/hear the full story.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

3. Virtual expungement clinic scheduled for July 30 in Rutland County

Lawyers with the attorney general’s office and the state’s attorney’s office will host a free clinic later this month to help Rutland County residents clear their criminal records.

The virtual expungement clinic is scheduled for Friday, July 30 from 10 to 2.

The state says the clinic will focus on clearing qualifying Vermont-specific criminal convictions and dismissed charges.

It will be open to the public by telephone appointment, so Vermonters seeking assistance should schedule in advance by calling 802-828-0033.

- Marlon Hyde

4. Scott appoints former gubernatorial rival to oversee local broadband expansion

Gov. Phil Scott has appointed his former political rival to head a new state board to oversee local broadband expansion efforts.

Scott named Christine Hallquist as the executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board Monday.

The board was created by a bill signed into law earlier this year. Its aim is to support local Communications Union Districts, or CUDs, with their work to expand broadband internet service.

Hallquist comes directly from a role working with two CUDs in Lamoille County and the Northeast Kingdom.

She was previously the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, before stepping down in 2018 to run for governor. She won the Democratic nomination, making history as the first transgender woman to be the gubernatorial nominee of a major party. She lost to Scott, taking 40% of the vote to Scott's 55%.

- Henry Epp

5. Dairy viability task force hears from milk purchasers

A legislative task force focused on making the Vermont dairy industry more viable met Monday with manufacturers who purchase milk from dairies across the state. Among them was Jasper Hill Farm co-founder Mateo Kehler, who says one challenge for the industry is equity.

Kehler, whose farm produces cheese, says milk pricing policy has created conditions that extract wealth from rural communities and transfer it to urban and suburban ones.

“You know, it used to be bucolic, when you'd see these like older, beautiful, like historic barns,” Kehler said. “Now they're all falling down in the Northeast Kingdom.”

Kehler says revitalizing Vermont’s dairy industry will require heavy investment through things like infrastructure or tax credit programs.

Other manufacturers said additional challenges include labor shortages, and a lack of clear, uniform standards that highlight the benefits of practices undertaken by Vermont dairy farmers.

The task force will hear from farmers at its next meeting.

- Elodie Reed

6. Vermont 18-year-old picked in Major League Baseball draft

Vermont's best high school baseball player in decades was selected in Major League Baseball's annual draft Monday.

U-32 graduate Owen Kellington was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth round of the amateur draft.

Kellington, who is 18, has been playing with the Vermont Lake Monsters after leading U-32 to the state championship.

It's been 19 years since a high school player has been drafted and signed out of Vermont, according to theBoston Globe.

And just one player drafted out of a Vermont high school or college has reached the big leagues.

Kelington's selection has another local connection. The Pittsburgh Pirates are run by General Manager Ben Cherington, who grew up in the Upper Valley and graduated from Lebanon High School.

- Mark Davis

7. Addison residents voting on whether to leave school district

The town of Addison will decide today if they should withdraw from the Addison Northwest Supervisory District.

The Addison Select Board heard pros and cons from residents during an informational meeting Monday night.

The Addison County Independentreports backers of the split say it would open possibilities for a new public or independent elementary school.

But opponents question the point of withdrawal, given that four other district towns would also have to agree to the separation.

Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham would have to vote within 90 days to allow the split.

If Addison residents do vote to withdraw from the Northwest Supervisory District, Addison would be the second rural county school to withdraw from a unified district this year, following Ripton's decision this spring.

Voting hours are today from 7am to 7pm.

- Karen Anderson

8. Passenger plane service sees ridership rebound

Cape Air, the company that provides passenger air service to Rutland and Lebanon, New Hampshire, is seeing ridership rebound after plummeting during the pandemic.

Company spokesperson Erin Hatzell says the company’s four daily flights in and out of Lebanon have been especially strong.

“Our ridership in New Hampshire is very positive,” Hatzell said. “We’re up about 45% in that market 2019 versus 2021, so that’s really positive numbers on our end, obviously, seeing that consumer confidence and folks wanting to get out and travel again.”

In Rutland, ridership year to date is still down 20% compared to 2019. But Hatzell says looking ahead, advance bookings out of Rutland are only down 2%, something she says bodes well for the rest of the summer travel season.

- Nina Keck

9. U.S. Forest Service to hold public meeting Wednesday about Telephone Gap

The U.S. Forest Service will hold a virtual public meeting Wednesday about the future of a 7,200-acre area of land in the Green Mountain National Forest. The zone straddles the Green Mountain spine in the Rochester and Middlebury ranger districts.

Most Vermonters may know Telephone Gap for its location on the Long Trail – just south of Mt. Carmel State Forest. But the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project spans a much larger area, mostly in the town of Chittenden.

Just under half of the land in the area under review is owned by the Forest Service, and planning for its future has been underway since 2013.

The public can weigh in at a virtual public meeting Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Input could shape future trail development, conservation efforts and industry in the area when the project kicks off in 2023.

- Abagael Giles

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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