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News Roundup: State Officials Struggle To Find Stable Housing For Kids In Foster Care

Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about challenges in finding foster families for children in state custody, a study showing Burlington has the potential to be an urban heat island and more for Friday, July 30.

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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 post. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. State struggling to find stable housing for kids in foster care

Child welfare officials in Vermont say they’re struggling to find stable housing for kids in foster care.

Vermont children average six different foster placements over their time in state custody.

Brenda Gooley, with the Department for Children and Families, says Vermont is trying to get more kids in foster care into the homes of grandparents or other family members.

“If we do a better job placing with kin, statistically speaking we do a better job in terms of placement stability,” she said.

Gooley says turnover among DCF caseworkers also contributes to instability in foster placements. And she says the state is working to improve retention among staff.

- Peter Hirschfeld

2. Report shows COVID-19 government benefits helped reduce Vermont's poverty rate

Government benefits have kept an estimated 77,000 people in Vermont out of poverty this year.

That’s according to the nonprofit research group The Urban Institute.

A recent reportfound that stimulus checks, expanded food assistance and unemployment insurance are largely responsible for dropping the state’s poverty rate to 7% this year amid the pandemic.

That’s down from about 10% in 2018.

Federal aid had the largest impact on reducing child poverty, with about 2.5% of Vermonters under 18 projected to live in poverty this year, from about 7% in 2018.

- Lexi Krupp

3. Study shows Burlington among top 20 cities with potential as urban heat islands

Burlington could on average be up to 7 degrees warmer than the areas around it according to a recent report.

The study, by the nonprofit research group Climate Central, ranks Burlington 13th among the top 20 cities in America with the greatest potential to be urban heat islands.

Climate Central analyzed 160 American cities for conditions that create heat islands. Burlington was found to have a lot of surfaces like dark roofs and pavement that absorb sunlight and trap the associated heat.

Heat islands can create dangerous conditions during extreme heat events, which are expected to occur more frequently with climate change.

Nationwide, they disproportionately affect lower-income communities and people of color. Census data suggests this is also true in Burlington, which has a poverty rate more than twice the state average.

But Jen Brady, a senior analyst at Climate Central, says there are things cities can do.

“You know, there are so many things we deal with in climate change that are not easily solvable,” Brady said. “And you know, this is — you can do stuff about this.”

Brady says reflective roofs, lighter pavement and equitable planning policies can help.

- Abagael Giles

4. New Brattleboro police chief still deciding whether she agrees with reforms recommended for department

Brattleboro's new police chief says she believes reforms are needed at the department, but she's not sure whether she agrees with all the recommendations made in a report commissioned by the town last year.

Norma Hardy took over as the head of the department on Wednesday. She says she's still getting caught up on the reform efforts started in Brattleboro last year.

"It's gonna be many conversations I'm sure, and many meetings with the community and the boards that wrote this report,” Hardy said. “Hopefully we can all come to an agreeable common ground with some of the things that they want to accomplish."

The report recommended disarming police in some situations, witholding the pensions of officers who violate excessive force rules, among other measures.

Read/hear the full conversation.

- Henry Epp

5. New CDC masking guidelines apply to areas of high transmission, which Vermont is not

The CDC this week changed its guidelines to recommend everyone, including those who are fully vaccinated, wear a mask indoors if they are in an area of high transmission.

Vermont is not an area of high transmission.

And Deputy Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan toldVermont Edition Thursday that because of our high vaccination rate — above 80 percent — masking indoors is not recommended. She says vaccines continue to be the most powerful tool Vermonters have to protect against COVID-19.

"What you are hearing is messaging sometimes for the whole country, but may not always apply uniquely to the place you are,” she said.

Dolan says if you travel to an area with lots of COVID transmission, the Health Department recommends to get tested when you return.

Hear the full conversation.

- Connor Cyrus

6. Leahy-sponsored legislation for U.S. Capitol security upgrades, Afghan translator visas passes Senate

The United States Capitol will be retrofitted with some security upgrades under legislation sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy and passed by the Senate Thursday afternoon.

Leahy says the bill allocates $2.1 billion for a number of key projects, including additional salaries for the U.S. Capitol Police and security upgrades to the Capitol after the insurrection on Jan. 6.

"On Jan. 6, the shattered windows, the doors were broadcast to the world laying bare that our seat of democracy is not some impenetrable fortress,” Leahy said. “You can't just replace the windows and fix doors and say, ‘OK, everything's fixed.’"

The legislation also creates 8,000 new visas for Afghan translators who assisted U.S. military forces during the recent war, and provides $1 billion for a variety of support services including housing.

Leahy says the United States has a moral responsibility to protect these Afghan translators.

"By now we've all seen the gruesome reports of men and women being summarily executed in the street, sometimes in front of their families,” he said. “Why? Because they supported us, and that slaughter is only going to escalate.”

President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law today.

- Bob Kinzel

7. Vermont Law School policy handbook identifies Vermont as leader in farm-to-school legislation

A new policy handbook for farm-to-school programs says Vermont is a national leader in connecting kids with local food.

Farm to school is a strategy that aims to build more just and equitable food systems by educating kids about farming and feeding them food from local producers.

The handbook,compiled by the Vermont Law School and the National Farm To School Network, found that from 2004 to 2020, Vermont lawmakers considered 23 related bills and resolutions. They include the nation’s first-ever grant program for schools to build relationships with food producers.

While the handbook presents Vermont as a successful case study, it notes the state has not passed legislation supporting producers who are Black, Indigenous or people of color. Ensuring racial equity is one approach the handbook advises to maintain viable local farms for schools to partner with in the future.

The handbook also recommends universal free meals. Vermont has piloted a similar program in five schools for 18 months, though the pilot is now complete.

During the pandemic, the federal government began reimbursing schools and child care facilities for offering free meals, regardless of income. That is set to continue through the 2021-22 school year.

- Elodie Reed

8. Vermonter supporters of universal paid family and medical leave turn to Congress

Supporters of a universal paid family and medical leave program in Vermont are shifting their focus toward Washington, D.C.

Akshata Nayak belongs to a coalition of advocates in Vermont that are now pushing Congress.

“We need a national solution that will provide for all workers, all small businesses, provide enough compensation and time for it to be effective, provide for all kinds of leave, including personal, family and parental,” Nayak said.

President Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats want to include a national paid leave program in a major infrastructure bill.

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation last year that would have created a universal paid family leave program in Vermont.

- Peter Hirschfeld

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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