Feds deal blow to Shumlin’s plan for health insurance subsidies

first_imgby Andrew Stein vtdigger.org Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’ s $10.3 million proposal to fund health insurance subsidies is fraying at the seams.The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) said it is unwilling to fund roughly 20 percent of the subsidies’ cost, money which the administration was counting on.This fiscal year 2014 proposal is composed of two parts: a $6.5 million allocation to help pay premiums for Vermonters earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, and a $3.8 million allotment to reduce out-of-pocket maximum costs for income earners up to 350 percent of the poverty line.These programs are meant to cushion the fiscal blow of the health benefit exchange, which is the health insurance marketplace that all Vermonters ‘ who aren’ t employed by businesses with more than 50 employees ‘ are legally required to buy insurance from in 2014.At that time, the state-subsidized insurance programs Catamount and VHAP will expire. Without state aid, the combination of premiums and out-of-pocket costs is slated to more than double for Vermonters earning 133-300 percent of the federal poverty line.To finance roughly 55 percent of the two proposed programs, the administration was preparing to request Medicaid funding through what is called a federal 1115 waiver. This waiver is what currently allows the state to spend Medicaid funds more liberally via its Global Commitment program.The state currently uses this program to help pay for school health services, information technology and the salaries of certain health care regulators, among other items.The state’ s current waiver expires at the end of 2013, and the administration was hopeful that it could receive Medicaid contributions for these two low-income insurance programs under a new waiver.But on Tuesday, CMS told the administration that it would not fund the $3.8 million cost-sharing program. CMS did, however, agree to fund the larger $6.5 million premium-assistance program.CMS provides matching Medicaid assistance to Vermont at a standard rate of roughly 55 percent of the cost of a particular item. That means the feds will pay for 55 percent of the $6.5 million premium-assistance program.What it also means is that the administration and the Legislature must find an additional $2.1 million of revenue for FY 2014, if they are to provide the entire $3.8 million for cost-sharing subsidies that they proposed. That $2.1 million represents the 55 percent of the cost-sharing subsidy that the administration was hoping the feds would fund.In FY 2015, the $10.3 million is slated to double, which means the state would have to come up with roughly $4 million extra the following fiscal year.The reason the administration only proposed $10.3 million for the new programs in FY 2014, which begins in July 2013, is that the exchange takes effect halfway through the fiscal year ‘ at the start of calendar year 2014. Therefore, the $10.3 million is half the cost of an entire fiscal year’ s worth of subsidies.So, why won’ t CMS fund the cost-sharing program?According to Robin Lunge, the administration’ s director of health care reform, the feds didn’ t elaborate in great detail, but they reportedly said the program would be difficult to run in light of the sea change set to stir up the nation’ s health care finances in 2014 ‘ most of which is caused by the federal Affordable Care Act.‘ I think, in part, it was a capacity issue,’ Lunge added.Moving forward, the administration is aiming to submit a new revenue proposal to the House Health Care Committee on Thursday.‘ It’ s possible we won’ t be able to get the work completely finished ‘¦ but we hope to get them a revised proposal at the end of the week at the latest,’ Lunge said. ‘ We’ re currently considering what our options are and what we’ ll propose because of course there are a number of different ways we could proceed.’  February 6, 2013 vtdigger.orglast_img read more

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Vermonters fire questions at health care exchange forum in Waterbury

first_imgby Andrew Stein June 13, 2013 vtdigger.org More than 60 Vermonters gathered in a basement room at Waterbury’s Thatcher Brook Primary School on Wednesday to learn about the state’s new health insurance marketplace, Vermont Health Connect.PHOTO: Lindsey Tucker, deputy commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Connect, addresses a crowd at a public forum Wednesday, June 13, 2013, at Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDiggerLindsey Tucker, deputy commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Connect, fielded questions about the Web-based market, which is slated to open Oct. 1. On Jan. 1, 2014, the more than 100,000 Vermonters buying insurance individually or through businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees will be required to purchase coverage on the exchange.Sheila Rochefort and her family drove from East Montpelier and Stowe to learn how the new regulations surrounding the exchange would affect their business, Vermont Tire and Service.‘We need a navigator to come in and talk to our employees because offering insurance through the company they will receive no subsidies,’Rochefort said. ‘That seems really unfair to them. If they can get help paying their premiums, it would be unconscionable of us to actually deny them that opportunity.’But the Rocheforts aren’t entirely sure whether their business qualifies for the exchange or not because their 56 employees are right on the edge of eligibility for the small-group market, and large-group employers play by slightly different rules.Elizabeth Larimer (left) and Brenda Viens has questions about how the new health insurance exchange would affect their businesses. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDiggerBrenda Viens is a bookkeeper for her son’s business, Viens Plumbing and Heating, LLC, in Fayston. Elizabeth Larimer, who does the accounting for Viens’nephew’s Richmond business, Russ/Wood Decorating, joined her.‘I’m concerned,’Larimer said. ‘It’s going to be a lot of change coming.’Viens, with more-than 45 years of accounting experience, said she is worried that learning curve for understanding the health care reform initiatives is very steep.‘If we can’t learn it in 24 hours, how are other people going to learn it in 24 hours?’she quipped.But all and all, Viens said, the challenge does not appear to be insurmountable. People simply need more information.Tucker told the group gathered in Waterbury that was why she was there.Using this power point presentation, she and a team of state officials waded through the ins and outs of the exchange.‘We are the government, and we’re here to help you,’she said.The questions and the answersThe Vermonters at the Waterbury public forum asked a range of questions. Here is an edited version of some of those questions and Tucker’s responses.For more public forum dates, see this calendar.Why are MVP and Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont the only health insurance options on the exchange? How come there are only two health insurance companies and not Cigna and Aetna and other companies?Today, in our individual and small group market, we have two carriers: We have MVP and we have Blue Cross. Cigna is here in Vermont, but only in the large group market, and the exchange is only for individuals and small groups, defined as businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees.Wasn’t there another company that applied for insurance status? The Vermont Health CO-OP? What happened to them?They applied for licensure through the Department of Financial Regulation, and they were denied and there’s currently talk about the possibility of an appeal. One of the reasons in the department’s report is that their premiums were higher. (For more on this issue, read here.How will the in-person guidance of navigators and brokers differ?They are very similar. The navigator program will have state and federal funding, so it will be free for Vermonters to use. The navigators will be certified, they will have 24 hours of training to sit down and help you. The broker community has a lot of expertise, and so an employer who has a relationship with a broker who knows the employer’s business and employees may wish to work with a broker. Brokers will charge a state-set fee, which will be finalized in the next few weeks.As a small business owner, can I have a navigator come into my business to discuss insurance options with all of my employees individually?Yes, and open enrollment starts Oct. 1, and it lasts six months until the end of March.Are the premiums the same for small businesses?Yes.If you’re a family, but you have adult children under the age of 26, do you apply as a family or do your older children apply individually? How do you access the subsidies to lower health insurance costs?Eligibility for federal and state subsidies is based on household income. So, if you in your household have one tax return or two different tax returns, your eligibility is based on that number or those numbers. Your young adult could apply with your family or on his or her own.Are members of the same family stuck with the same plan or can they access different plans?That’s something we are finalizing right now. We are working to determine how we can give Vermonters the most options possible and stick within the federal system. We will have that information by the end of the month.Who will police this eligibility?The federal government. Health and Human Services has created something called the federal hub. What this does is aggregates data and information from Homeland Security and the IRS and is tax-based. It’s your tax return that they base this information on. Whether your income goes up or down in the course of the year, it will all get trued up in the end through the IRS. We are hooked up to the federal hub, and we are a vehicle for Vermonters to be able to access coverage and subsidies.If your employer is from another state, can you continue to get insurance from them?You can continue to do that. If your plan is coming from Connecticut, it can continue to come from Connecticut. That Connecticut company has the option to offer you insurance through Vermont Health Connect, but they don’t have to.What will happen to the state-subsidized Catamount and VHAP health insurance programs?Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, those programs will go away. Folks who are eligible for Medicaid (earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line) and folks who are eligible for the exchange will go onto the exchange. There will be lots of notices coming over the summer.My son owns his own business, but he is on a Catamount plan. So, come Jan. 1, 2014, he will most likely have to buy insurance on the exchange?That’s right, and he would most likely be eligible for a subsidy.What are the main differences between the plans?The difference between the plans is how you pay for them. Some of them will have lower premiums and higher co-pays and some of them will have higher premiums and lower co-pays. There are four levels. Bronze is the lowest actuarial level, which means the least amount is covered by the plan. So, your premiums here would be low, but your out-of-pocket costs would be higher, so your deductible and copays would be higher. There’s a cap on both out-of-pocket costs and deductibles. At the high end, the platinum end, the premiums are going to be the highest, but the copays and deductibles will be the lowest.How do I pick a plan for my employees?If you are a small business owner, there are two options for you coming into the exchange. The first is to choose one carrier and pick a level or a dollar amount for your employees to buy up or buy down. Employees can say, ‘Here’s how much money my employer is giving me, this seems like a good plan.’Or they could say, ‘I really want to buy platinum.’The exchange will let you as the employer know what the employee has picked, so that you can deduct the appropriate amount from their paycheck. We will aggregate that information for you. The other option is a full-choice option ‘not limiting employees to just one insurer.Does the employer have to pay a portion of the employee’s insurance?No, and if there’s no employer support, an employee is eligible for subsidies.If employers are offering to pay a portion, how does that work? Is it pre-taxed?It’s pre-taxed just the way it is today.What businesses are eligible for the exchange?As you think about eligibility as a small business for the exchange, it’s 50 full-time employees or fewer, full-time being defined as 30 hours or more a week. As an employer, if you offer coverage to one of your full time employees, you have to offer coverage to all of them. You have to treat your full-timers equally. But you have a choice about your part-timers. You can offer them coverage or not.Is there a penalty for employers who don’t provide health insurance coverage?If you are a small employer, the employer assessment will still apply to you if you do not offer coverage or do not offer adequate coverage. However, there is a new federal assessment on large employers, and large employers are defined as 50 or more employees.If you are a larger employer and you do not offer coverage, there is a penalty that can be assessed on you; or if you’re an employer who offers coverage, but some of your employees find it unaffordable. If the premiums are higher than 9.5 percent of income, it’s unaffordable, and you may have a penalty assessed on you by the feds. There is no federal penalty for small employers.Will school districts that are self-insured be exempt?If you have more than 50 employees, you are not eligible for the exchange. If you have 50 or fewer, then you have to come into the exchange. There are associations that will need to break up and separate the small groups from the large groups. And the small groups have to come into the exchange.last_img read more

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Citizens Bank sends 500 Vermont children back to school with new backpacks filled with school supplies

first_imgCitizens Bank,Citizens Bank is helping 500 Vermont students start the school year with new backpacks filled with school supplies through its Gear for Grades program. More than 4,250 pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, glue sticks and index cards were donated by the public in all 21 branches across Vermont. This year’s Gear for Grades program is supported by Mix 98.1/WJJR, 1230 WJOY and KOOL 105. According to a National Retail Federation survey, the average American family spent $688.62 in 2012 on back-to-school expenses. For low-income, at-risk or homeless families, the cost of even basic school supplies can be a burden.  ‘With the rising cost of school supplies, the Gear for Grades program helps to ease the financial strain parents face this time of year as they prepare to send their children back to school,’ said Joe Carelli, President, Citizens Bank and RBS Citizens, Vermont. ‘We are proud to play a small role in contributing to the academic success of so many local children who return to the classroom ready to learn. We thank our customers and the general public who continue to support this program by donating new school supplies that make a big difference to the children who receive them.  On Wednesday, August 28, children in Burlington received backpacks filled with school supplies as part of the Gear for Grades program by Citizens Bank.  This year, more than 4,250 pencils, pens, folders, notebooks, glue sticks and index cards were donated by the public in all 21 branches across Vermont. From left: Keanu Foster, Kathryn Boardman, Mortgage Loan Officer, Citizens Bank, Madilyn Bilodeau.The Gear for Grades program is a part of Citizens Helping Citizens Strengthen Communities, the bank’s program for contributing to the economic vitality of communities. Citizens Bank colleagues and community members volunteered to help fill the supplies in logo-free backpacks donated by Citizens Bank Foundation to help ensure children have a positive experience as they return to the classroom. The backpacks will be will be distributed to designated youth serving agencies including: local Boys & Girls Club of Rutland, Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro, COTS, LUND and the Springfield Parent Child Center.  Backpacks were distributed to more than 38,000 children across RBS Citizens Financial Group’s footprint where it operates as Citizens Bank in New England and the Mid-Atlantic and Charter One in the Midwest. Since 2003, the Gear for Grades program has sent more than 253,000 children from low-income families back to school with tools to help them learn.Citizens Helping Citizens Strengthen Communities is part of the bank’s broader Citizens Helping Citizens program addressing five key areas: hunger, housing, economic development, financial education and volunteerism. Get more information about Citizens Bank’s community initiatives online. About Citizens Helping CitizensGrounded in the belief that a good bank gives back to its community and to the people who live there, Citizens Helping Citizens is a program embracing the community goals of RBS Citizens Financial Group, Inc. ‘ the commercial bank holding company serving consumer and small business customers as Citizens Bank and Charter One and commercial banking customers as RBS Citizens. The Citizens Helping Citizens program comprises five key initiatives supported directly by RBSCFG and also by its nonprofit charitable foundations, the Citizens Charitable Foundation, the Citizens Bank Foundation and the Charter One Foundation: Citizens Helping Citizens Fight Hunger, Citizens Helping Citizens Provide Shelter, Citizens Helping Citizens Strengthen Communities (economic development), Citizens Helping Citizens Teach Money Management (financial education) and Citizens Helping Citizens Give (volunteerism and colleague charitable donations). Across all of these initiatives, Citizens Helping Citizens strives to enhance quality of life and economic vitality in local communities. About Citizens BankCitizens Bank is a division of RBS Citizens, N.A., operating its seven-state branch network in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. It has 21 branches and 40 ATMs in Vermont.Source: Citizens Bank 8.29.2013last_img read more

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October is National Farm to School Month

first_imgThe Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) staff will attend two events this week that spotlight National Farm to School Month. To highlight ‘Local Crunch for Lunch,’ which will happen statewide today at participating schools; staff will join in at Thatcher Brook Primary School at 11 am.  VAAFM will also attend the ‘Crops by Kids Garden’ apple celebration at Barre Town Middle & Elementary School on Thursday, October 17 at 9:30 am. October National Farm to School Month was created in 2010 when the US House of Representatives sought to recognize the strong role Farm to School plays in promoting good health and strong economies. The Agency also welcomes Senior Agriculture Development Specialist Johanna Herron, who will be responsible for the Farm to School coordination.  Herron comes to Vermont after running the Alaska Farm to School Program, and is familiar with the impact these celebrations and programs have on kids and communities.   ‘Vermont has been a leader in the Farm to School movement which is critical to moving our kids, communities, and economy to a new level,’ said Governor Peter Shumlin. From school gardens to local food on cafeteria trays, farm to school practices help children connect with their food and make healthier choices, while also creating new markets for local and regional farmers, the Governor said. ‘Farm to School programs are key to developing the agricultural literacy we need in our communities to create vibrant and successful agriculture and food system in Vermont,’ said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross.  ‘Acknowledging and building awareness of this nationally celebrated month is important to our agency because of the pivotal role Farm to School plays in the lives of every Vermont citizen.’last_img read more

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House poised to pass prevailing wage for state construction

first_imgby Hilary Niles vtdigger.org Vermont’s union roots are shallow at best when it comes to construction and building trades. It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of the state’s construction workers belong to a union.Legislation up for a final vote in the House on Thursday wouldn’t change that, but it would push companies toward a union business model when it comes to paying for labor on state-funded construction projects.H.878 would require companies to offer certain benefits if they want to bid on state jobs. Alternatively, companies that don’t offer benefits could boost employee wages for an amount equal to the value of what their benefits otherwise would be. The bill would accomplish all this by shifting Vermont’s prevailing wage laws from a unique state model to a federal standard. “Prevailing wage” refers to standards for how much construction workers should be paid on publicly funded projects.Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDiggerRep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, sits on the House Corrections and Institutions Committee, one of three House panels that recommended H.878.“This was about what sort of employers do we want to be,” Hooper said on the House floor Wednesday. “Paying Vermonters decent wages and enabling them to purchase decent benefits. That’s the underlying concept of this bill,” she said.Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, cast one of two dissenting votes in the House General Services, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. Van Wyck said after the floor debate that he dislikes the way the bill proscribes employment practices, and he believes non-union shops have more flexibility to find efficiencies.A key to that flexibility, the trade group Associated General Contractors of Vermont argues, is employee benefits. Companies can choose whether, when and how many benefits to offer all or some employees.All federally funded projects must follow rates set by the Davis Bacon and Related Acts. About 40 states have their own prevailing wage laws for state-funded construction.Vermont’s current prevailing wage laws neither require benefits nor calculate their value into standards for compensation. The federal prevailing wage law does.The switch to Davis-Bacon standards would mean that, in order to compete for any state-funded contracts, construction companies would have to offer benefits to their workers or else pay them extra.That would drive up labor costs for companies that do not offer federally recognized benefits. These businesses have fought the bill.Union and non-union shops that do offer benefits have praised the legislation. They say it will “level the playing field,” making it easier to compensate workers well.The legislation started as a proposal to establish the going union rates as Vermont’s prevailing wage, similar to laws in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.After some time in the House General Services Committee, that union-wage legislation was shelved and a new committee bill was created to align Vermont with the federal prevailing wage. Connecticut and Rhode Island tie their projects to Davis-Bacon rates.The potential impact of the switch on Vermont’s capital budget is unclear. A fiscal note dated April 3 estimates an 8 percent increase in total project costs. That could be anywhere from $1.92 million to $3.36 million annually — down from a previous estimate in March of $2 million to $7 million.Most years, Vermont’s capital budget ranges between $60 million and $70 million. Only about half of those projects are subject to prevailing wage requirements, and labor constitutes roughly one-third of the spending.Rep. Thomas Koch, R/D-Barre, said more money won’t be added to the capital bill to pay for the increased labor costs, so the prevailing wage change just represents projects that won’t get done.“The money isn’t going to come from the contractors. They’re going to write it into their bids. And the money doesn’t come from the state treasury,” Koch said. “It comes from the taxpayers. So all we’re doing is transferring from one taxpayer to another. Some will say, ‘thank you,’ and some will say, ‘ouch.’”Hooper said the Institutions Committee gave the potential for increased costs a lot of thought.“We protect that capital bill very vigorously,” Hooper said. The majority of the committee decided any increase in labor costs would be worth the money.The House Appropriations Committee voted for the bill 7 to 4. The bill is scheduled for a final House vote Thursday morning. It’s uncertain which Senate committee would take it up.last_img read more

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Agency of Natural Resources denies petition to restrict use of Wolcott Pond

first_imgThe Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced its decision Wednesday to deny the Friends of Wolcott Pond’s petition to restrict use of Wolcott Pond. The Department found that enforcement of the existing 5 mph speed limit is preferred to prohibiting internal combustion motors from using Wolcott Pond.“Wolcott Pond is an accessible, natural pond with some nice wetland edges that provides important recreational opportunities for fishing and wildlife watching. We are pleased that the pond will continue to be available to all boaters who respect and obey the 5 mph speed limit on all areas of the pond,” said Department of Environmental Conservation Lakes & Ponds Program Manager Susan Warren.Motorized boats will be allowed to use Wolcott Pond, but must observe 5 mph speed limit. Photo courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife.The Friends of Wolcott Pond had asked the Department to prohibit internal combustion motorized vehicles from using the pond. The citizen group sought this ban to protect the quiet nature of the pond and to reduce swimmer safety risks. The Department declined to grant this request after learning that the noise concerns and swimmer safety risks are only an issue when motorboats violate the speed limit.The Friends of Wolcott Pond also cited pollution as a reason for the petition. The Department noted its decision that it is “unaware of any water quality issues or impairments associated with Wolcott Pond” and that enforcement of existing water quality regulatory controls is the preferred way to achieve a petition’s purpose without unnecessarily restricting use of the pond.Although the Department declined to grant the Friends of Wolcott Pond’s petition, it will work with the Friends of Wolcott Pond to enhance visibility of the Use of Public Waters Rules at the access area and enhance communication with the enforcement programs.Source: DEC. 10.22.2014. Copies of the decision can be found on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website: (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/(link is external)). For additional information, contact Susan Warren at the Department of Environmental Conservation, (802) 490-6134.last_img read more

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VHCB awards $4.59 million for land conservation, recreation, home ownership

first_imgVermont Business Magazine At its June meeting, the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board awarded $4,597,550 to conserve nearly 3,260 acres of farmland, recreational land and town forests in 20 towns and to provide for home ownership and housing accessibility around the state. VHCB commitments of state funds will leverage an additional $7.8 million in town funds, local fundraising, bargain sales, donations, mortgage financing and federal dollars. Fourteen of the farm projects include special water quality protections and three projects use federal funding from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, focused on protecting and improving water quality in the Lake Champlain Basin.Left: open land in Westford to be transfered to a dairy farm as part of a project to conserve a town forest (Vermont Land Trust photo); center: Georgia Town Forest land conserved by the Vermont Land Trust, with VLT Biologist Liz Thompson, John Moseley (landowner), County forester Nancy Patch and Ken Minck with the Georgia Conservation Commission. (VLT photo);right: Gale Meadow Pond in Wiinhall where 192 acres will be added to the Wildlife Management Area there (Pieter van Loon/VLT photo).Gus Seelig, VHCB Executive Director, said, “These VHCB investments will bolster Vermont’s agricultural economy, protect permanent public access to water and forestland, improve water quality and flood resilience, subsidize home ownership opportunities and provide for accessibility improvements in private homes for people living with physical disabilities.”Commitments of $2,060,000 in VHCB funding and $2,884,000 in federal funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service will be used to conserve 2,259 acres on 15 farms in the towns of Westford, Shelburne, Cambridge, Fairfield, Monkton, Barre Town, East Montpelier, Charlotte, Randolph, Tunbridge, Troy, Shaftsbury, Essex Junction, Swanton and Georgia. Grants to famers selling development rights through the Vermont Land Trust will assist with nine farm transfers to new owners and provide capital for reinvestment, diversification, debt reduction or retirement. The conserved farms will include dairy, hay, beef and vegetable operations. Additionally, VHCB provided funding to facilitate the transfer of a previously conserved farm in Granville to new farmers. Providing public access to recreation, protecting town forests and wildlife habitat, VHCB committed $690,000 to conserve 1,000 acres as follows:Bean Pond, Sutton – with a $40,000 VHCB grant, the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation will add 30 acres and 3,600 feet of pond frontage near the headwaters of Crystal Lake to Willoughby State Forest;Rikert Swimming Access, Sharon – The Vermont River Conservancy will use $55,000 in VHCB funding to purchase and conserve 10 acres, creating boating, swimming and fishing access with frontage on the White River and the Broad Brook, including a primitive campsite for paddlers;Brattleboro – With $18,750 in VHCB funding, the Vermont River Conservancy will undertake a floodplain restoration project on 12 acres along the Whetstone Brook in a neighborhood near the downtown, providing trails and public access to the river;In Sharon, The Nature Conservancy will use $119,500 to purchase 450 acres with diverse natural communities and rare species that includes two miles of frontage on the White River and links a Wildlife Management Area with other conserved land;A $175,000 grant will assist the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to purchase 192 acres for addition to the Wildlife Management Area at Gale Meadows Pond in Winhall;The towns of Georgia and Westford worked with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve town forests. In Georgia, $132,500 in VHCB funding will protect 177 acres near Silver Lake, which is used as a back-up water supply for the town of St. Albans. On the edge of the village of Westford, 130 acres will be conserved, providing access to trails from the village and the local school, securing future wastewater treatment capacity for the village. Open land will be conserved and sold to a local dairy farmer.Housing commitments included a $445,000 VHCB grant to enable the Vermont Center for Independent Living to make accessibility modifications to homes and apartments around the state. The HOMELAND Program, which assists moderate-income households to become home owners, will use $600,000 in VHCB funding to make purchase subsidy grants to 14 homebuyers. A grant of $157,500 will help Habitat for Humanity and Vocational Education Programs to purchase land and make site improvements for the construction of seven single-family homes.Source: www.vhcb.org(link is external) 6.29.2016last_img read more

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State auditor gives mild rebuke to three departments over performance reviews

first_imgVermont Business Magazine Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer released his review of whether certain departments of state government were performing their required employee performance review. His conclusion was that they largely were not and that some long-serving employees had never received a performance review, as required by state policy. The auditor does not have the authority to punish another department or personnel. But the departments in question agreed with Hoffer’s assessment of the situation and with his suggested remedies, some of which are already in place.Doug Hoffer. See full report HERE(link is external).In his report, Hoffer wrote that “performance evaluations are key to holding individual public servants accountable, and Vermont state policy and statute requires that performance evaluations be completed annually for classified employees. Only 63 percent of respondents to the 2015 State of Vermont Employee Engagement Survey agreed that performance evaluations are completed annually in their respective departments.“Our audit objective was to determine whether classified employees in the departments of Human Resources (DHR), Information & Innovation (DII), and Finance & Management (F&M) received timely annual performance evaluations in 2015. We focused our audit on these departments because they had some of the lowest levels of performance evaluations completed in 2015, according to the employee engagement surveys.“As a result of our audit, we concluded that only 27 of 181 classified employees in the three departments received an annual performance evaluation in 2015. Furthermore, a non-statistical sample of 20 of 154 classified employees who did not receive an annual evaluation in 2015 revealed that nine had not received an annual performance evaluation for more than five years, and three with hire dates in 2013, 2012, and 1998 had no record of an annual evaluation.“We interviewed 22 of 46 supervisors from these three departments to understand the causes for the low level of completed annual performance evaluations for 2015. These interviews showed the following:Most supervisors did not know whether their own written performance expectations included the responsibility for annual evaluations, and the supervisors they reported to had not followed up with them in 2015regarding annual performance evaluations.About half stated they did not begin receiving notifications of upcoming evaluations that were due until late 2015 or early 2016.Less than half (45 percent) indicated they had received some training in the State’s performance evaluation system.“Senior officials in DII and F&M indicated that annual performance evaluations were not a priority in their departments, but they would be going forward. DHR hired an additional field administrator in late 2015 who has been working to improve the process to ensure annual performance evaluations are completed. “Within the next two years, all designated supervisors and managers are required to complete the DHR four-day course, Supervising in State Government Level 1, which addresses performance evaluation topics such as key steps to a performance review and completing the required performance evaluation form.Recommendations The auditor made a variety of recommendations to the commissioners of DHR, DII, and F&M, such as including in supervisors’ written performance expectations the responsibility for timely completion of performance evaluations; reviewing data regarding which supervisors have completed Supervising in State Government 1(SSG1); and ensuring that those supervisors that have not completed the course, do so before the end of 2018.The commissioners of the departments audited sent a memo back to Hoffer agreeing with his recommendations and noting that several of the practice and policy changes were already under way.In part they wrote: “The Department of Human Resources is already tackling many of the issues contained in the audit recommendations. We are supportive of all the audit recommendations, will move forward on the items identified above, and will include completion of performance appraisals as a performance expectation for all supervisors/managers within DHR.BackgroundDHR oversees the State’s Performance Management System. According to DHR, this system provides an effective supervisory tool that can enhance the productivity and motivation of employees. DHR’s Guide to the State’s Performance Management System describes the three components of the State’s approach:1) setting employee job expectations;2) observing employee performance and providing feedback throughout the year; and3) completing an annual performance evaluation documenting the employee’s actual performance over the year compared to performance expectations.DHR’s Field Services and Workforce Development division provides human resources support and services to employees, agencies, and departments throughout state government. Field Services Teams, which in some instances are embedded within agencies and departments, act as the liaison between agencies and departments and DHR’s Operations division. These teams provide a variety of human resources functions for assigned departments, including performance management. Specifically, they provide consultative services on the phases of performance management, including performance evaluations, and may audit performance evaluations to ensure they are in compliance with personnel policies and the CBA.3 V.S.A. §322 requires that officers and employees that act in a supervisory capacity complete service rating forms3 at least annually for each classified employee under their immediate supervision in accordance with the service rating procedures established by the Commissioner of Human Resources. A classified employee is an employee of the State of Vermont who is hired to fill a position in the classified service in accordance with merit principles as administered by DHR. 4 Classified service positions include permanent full-time, limited service, confidential,5 managerial,6 and supervisory7 positions.DHR Policy 7.0 applies to all classified state employees and requires that annual performance evaluations be completed for all classified employees on the anniversary date of the employee’s completion of original probation,8 or on the anniversary date of restoration or reduction-in-force rehire to State service.The CBAs require a meeting be held to discuss an evaluation within 45 days after the applicable anniversary date9 and apply to all classified employees who belong to a bargaining unit (e.g., non- management or supervisory). If the deadline is not met, the employee is assigned an annual overall presumptive rating equal to his or her last annual overall rating, but not less than a satisfactory rating.10 Written feedback furnished to an employee, which would have constituted the annual evaluation had it been timely, is not considered an evaluation and is not put in the employee’s file.Classified employees designated as confidential or managerial are not members of a bargaining unit. The CBA provisions related to holding an evaluation meeting within 45 days of an anniversary date and presumptive ratings are not applicable to confidential and managerial employees.Footnotes to Report:1) This relates to all classified employees who were employed at the three departments at December 31, 2015.2) Performance Management, Society for Human Resource Management, November 20, 2012.  3) All classified employees receive an annual performance evaluation on a prescribed form, AA-PER-6C. See Appendix III for an example ofa performance evaluation form.4) Employment within the executive branch of state government is either classified or exempt. The exempt category includes state police, temporary, elected, and appointed positions.5) A classified employee having responsibility for, knowledge of, or access to information relating to collective bargaining, personnel administration, or budgetary matters that would make membership in or representation by an employee organization incompatible with his or her official duties.6) The Vermont Labor Relations Board (VLRB) determines whether a managerial position is exempt or classified. A managerial position requires an employee to function as head of an agency, department, or institution, or as director of a major program or division.7) VLRB determines which positions are supervisory. “Supervisory” means an individual having authority to make decisions about hires, promotions, layoffs, and discipline.  8) The end of probation generally is six months after the date of hire.9) The “applicable anniversary date” is the anniversary of the employee’s completion of original probation, or on the anniversary of restoration or reduction-in-force rehire to state service.10) There are four ratings: outstanding, excellent, satisfactory, and unsatisfactory.  11) This relates to all classified employees who were employed at the three departments at December 31, 2015.  12) Survey response rates in 2014 and 2013 respectively were 97 percent and 72 percent (DHR), 66 percent and 60 percent (DII), and 44 percent and 58 percent (F&M).  13) An agreement by the executive branch called an extension of benefits, specifies which provisions are relevant for confidential and managerial employees. Medical/dental insurance, annual leave, parental/family leave, and court/jury duty are among the benefits that extend to confidential and managerial employees.  14) Per DHR Policy No. 2.3 this is the person authorized by statute or lawfully-delegated authority to appoint and dismiss employees. According to DHR, appointing authority may be the exempt agency or department head, or may be a senior individual in the chain of command who has been delegated authority to review and sign off on performance evaluations.15) Performance Management by Elaine D. Pulakos, SHRM Foundation, page 28.  16) VTHR is the system the State utilizes to process hires, track employee movement, create payroll, and house data for federal and state reporting. VTHR is an Oracle/PeopleSoft system.  17) This form is utilized to assign signature authorization for persons authorized to approve purchasing, payroll, personnel, and other documents.  Auditor Mission StatementThe mission of the Auditor’s Office is to hold state government accountable. This means ensuring that taxpayer funds are used effectively and efficiently, and that we foster the prevention of waste, fraud, and abuse.Source: State Auditor 7.27.2016last_img read more

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Entergy development funds aiding growth in Brattleboro area

first_imgby Mike Faher/The Commons, Brattleboro(link is external) Not long after announcing their intent to shut down Vermont Yankee, Entergy executives agreed to hand over $10 million to boost economic development in Windham County and ease the pain of the nuclear plant’s closure. At this point, the state has distributed or committed about half of what Entergy will pay to support what’s been dubbed the Windham County Economic Development Program. And officials say they’re seeing “a very positive impact” in spite of the program’s slow start.A new report from Brattleboro Development Credit Corp estimates that the projects that have been approved for Entergy’s economic development funding will retain 480 jobs and create 170 new positions. State officials are touting those numbers and others as evidence of success.Governor Peter Shumlin, center, participates in a December ribbon-cutting at a Brattleboro facility that is expected to serve as a new headquarters for The Ironwood Brands, a green building company. The project received money from the Windham County Economic Development Program. At right, holding the ribbon, is R.T. Brown, a local manager for the grant program. Mike Faher/Commons file photo“We’re really happy with the progress that we’re making with these loans and grants,” said Lucy Leriche, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development.Tweaking as they goAt the same time, officials acknowledge that they’re still dealing with “negative sentiments and confusion” over the program’s intent and its limitations. “We are continually working to get better and refine,” said R.T. Brown, the program’s Brattleboro-based project manager.Entergy’s $10 million was part of a 2013 settlement agreement with state officials — a pact inked about a year before Vermont Yankee stopped producing power.The company committed to paying the state $2 million annually for five years “to promote economic development in Windham County.” That cash, the agreement said, can’t come from the nuclear plant’s decommissioning trust fund.Entergy’s first payment came in April 2014. Later that year, after the state received solicitations for grants and loans from the program, Gov. Peter Shumlin declined to award the full amount because he was unsatisfied with many of the proposed projects.Most of the applications didn’t call for “transformational new jobs and economic opportunity,” Shumlin said at the time. The governor ordered the program to be retooled.The resulting changes led to more local input and, officials say, more awareness of what the program does and doesn’t do. For example, those looking for a grant or loan first must submit a letter of intent to a local advisory council, which makes recommendations to the state on possible projects to be funded.Also, Brown was hired about a year ago to handle business and community outreach and to offer technical advice.’A rough start’“We had a rough start with the program, and I think it was in large part because the governor was really adamant that he wanted these dollars to be stretched as far as possible and have as much impact as possible,” Leriche said.“Through the reboot process, I think we did a lot better in communicating our priorities and the priorities for the funding to the community,” she added.Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. recently released a report on the economic development program’s status. Of the $6 million paid by Entergy so far, the report says $4.83 million has been awarded or is otherwise committed via “loan applications in the queue.”The economic development money has been distributed via competitive and noncompetitive grants; loans; and incentives. The latter category is defined as “funds that contribute to private-sector job retention and creation projects in the region that have significant economic impact.”A large portion of the program’s awards so far fall into the “incentives” category, because that’s what officials have labeled a $2 million loan given last year to Brattleboro’s G.S. Precision Inc.The maker of machined components was considering moving to New Hampshire as part of an expansion plan. Federal, state, and local officials put together a financing package of grants, loans, and tax credits to ensure that didn’t happen, and G.S. Precision in December broke ground for a $17 million expansion at Brattleboro’s Exit One Industrial Park.Significant impactThe G.S. Precision project took a big chunk out of the Windham County Economic Development Program. But Brown said it was well worth it.“The impact of that is significant,” he said. “That’s approximately 100 new jobs as well as retaining 300. The annual payroll impact of that is fairly significant, and that’s what the program is for.”Officials point out that there have been a variety of other projects funded. Recipients of grants and loans have included Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., Bellows Falls Area Development Corp., Strolling of the Heifers, United Way of Windham County, Vermed, Sustainable Timber Investment Exchange, and Vermont Small Business Development Center.Earlier this year, Vermont Council on Rural Development landed $40,000 from the program to conduct a “community visit” planning process in Vernon. That has led to in-depth discussions about community projects as well as economic development and the town’s energy-producing future.The program’s latest awards, according to state documents, are $350,000 for SchoolHack Solutions and $500,000 for Chroma Technology Corp.Chroma is planning a multimillion-dollar expansion in Bellows Falls. SchoolHack is based in Bristol, but the education-services company has expanded into Windham County. “They are establishing their development and support teams here,” Brown said.Brown’s report calculates that, based on the projects funded so far, 480 jobs will be retained and 170 new jobs added. He also calculates another 158 “indirect” jobs — positions supported by employers who are somehow related to funding recipients.He cautions that those numbers are five-year projections. And officials acknowledge that they cannot replace all of the high-paying jobs at Vermont Yankee, where a workforce that once topped 600 was cut to 136 after the latest round of cuts in early May.Still, Brown says, “there’s some good work happening, and there are some great projects that are benefitting the region.”Officials see ’good return’Leriche, who recently took over Commerce and Community Development’s top job from former Secretary Pat Moulton, said state officials believe the Windham County Economic Development Program has produced “a really good return for such a short period of time.”At the same time, Leriche acknowledged that “we have had to say ’no’ to a number of projects that we liked but didn’t really meet the high standards” of the program.In some cases, rejections have led to disappointment. Vernon officials were upset in late 2014 when their request for $225,950 for a business incubator was rejected in the program’s first round. State officials said the idea wasn’t fully formed or properly supported.Brown said he’s been working to ensure applicants have a better idea of the program’s goals. For example, he said nonprofits seeking grants should focus on initiatives that offer “sustained” economic development — not just the creation or retention of a few jobs within that organization.“The grants are designed to fund projects that develop economic infrastructure in the region,” Brown said.Developing that infrastructure — especially after the loss of a major employer — takes time, Leriche said.“This is economic development,” she said. “This is the long game, and we have to take the long view. This [program] helps the region stabilize.”Originally published in The Commons issue #377 (Wednesday, October 5, 2016). commonsnews.org(link is external).last_img read more

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Vermont police get grants to buy bulletproof vests

first_imgvermont Business Magazine Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) on Friday announced that grants will be coming to Vermont to support the purchase of lifesaving protective vests for Vermont law enforcement officers, under the Leahy-authored Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program. The funding includes $68,400 to help 29 local police and sheriff departments buy more than 175 new bulletproof vests for their officers.Leahy is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the author of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program.  He successfully fought for its reauthorization earlier this year(link is external).  As a result, over the next five years more than 200,000 officers across the country will receive lifesaving vests. “Law enforcement officers working on the frontlines must have the tools they need to protect themselves in the line of duty.  We owe that to them and to their families.”  Leahy said.  “The Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program was created because of a tragic shootout with police on the Vermont-New Hampshire border.  It is perhaps the most tangible support that Congress can provide to law enforcement officers, and I take great comfort in knowing that more Vermont officers will have the protection of lifesaving vests with these grants.”Leahy said the program, which provides matching funds for departments to purchase bulletproof vests, is vital to small communities that struggle under tight budgets to keep their officers safe.  Further responding to those needs, Leahy improved the federal grant program by authoring a provision in 2009 to waive in whole or in part the matching requirement for small jurisdictions in Vermont and other states that are experiencing financial hardships.Leahy frequently hears from Vermont law enforcement officers about the escalating presence of powerful weapons found at the scenes of drug investigations.  Since the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program first received funding in 1999, more than $1 million has been awarded to police departments in Vermont to buy more than 4500 protective vests for Vermont law enforcement officers.Vermont Jurisdictions Receiving Bulletproof Vest GrantsJurisdiction $4,350.00 Number of Vests 2 $1,032.00 Middlebury Town Springfield Town 3 $775.00 7 Barre Town 12 12 8 $2,136.00 South Burlington City $928.50 $2,528.01 Essex Junction Village $3,200.00 8 Grant Amount 214Source: (FRIDAY, Oct. 7, 2016) — Senator Patrick Leahy 1 Vergennes City Franklin County Shelburne Town 4 Castleton Town $2,920.50 Grand Isle County $4,262.50 $3,325.00 8 $1,425.00 $989.47 Fair Haven Town $1,348.50 $2,247.50 Lamoille County Berlin Town Wilmington Town $2,250.50 $284.50 5 9 $3,156.76 3 $2,000.00 3 4 Pittsford Town Hardwick Town Rutland City 5 12 Bennington Town Rutland County $1,335.00 3 Winhall Town 8 Williston Town $1,497.50 Milton Town 9 11 $5,390.00 Royalton Manchester Town $1,547.50 5 St. Albans City $3,193.50 Bellows Falls Village $3,580.00 8 $1,876.00 Woodstock Village $2,070.00 $1,350.00 $1,400.00 6 Brattleboro Town 4 Totals for Vermont 5 $4,968.00 Hartford Town 4 5 $68,401.13 3last_img read more

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