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Monday, August 16, 2021

Business Leaders Press the White House to Let Canadians Cross the Border

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 11:59 PM

Vehicles in Québec approaching the crossing at Highgate Springs - FILE: MOLLY WALSH ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Molly Walsh ©️ Seven Days
  • Vehicles in Québec approaching the crossing at Highgate Springs
Vince Illuzzi III, 19, has been crossing the Canadian border almost every day since he was an eighth-grader at Stanstead College, 10 minutes north of his home in Newport. He’s now a student at Concordia University in Montréal.

Though the line is a lot shorter these days than it was a few years ago, Illuzzi said, the crossing goes much more slowly. And what used to take 30 seconds, he said, now eats up five minutes.

“I have to have my vaccination card, and I have to present a negative COVID test I took within three days," said Illuzzi. "They seem to be a bit more strict.”

As a student, Illuzzi has been able to cross the border throughout the pandemic. He’s exempt from the rules that have halted vacationers and many others whose travel is considered nonessential.

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Biden Names VT Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson to U.S. Court of Appeals

Posted By on Thu, Aug 5, 2021 at 11:38 AM

Beth Robinson - FILE PHOTO: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File Photo: Jeb Wallace-brodeur ©️ Seven Days
  • Beth Robinson
President Joe Biden on Thursday nominated Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Robinson, who led the marriage equality movement in Vermont, could become the first openly LGBTQ woman to hold a judgeship on any federal appeals court, the White House said. Her appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

Unemployment Insurance Fraud Is the Latest Epidemic

Posted By on Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 8:03 PM

Former governor Howard Dean - HOWARD DEAN
  • Howard Dean
  • Former governor Howard Dean
No, former governor Howard Dean has not been filing unemployment claims over and over — but somebody apparently has in his name. Dean is one of many Vermonters who have been mailed information packets about unemployment benefits that they never sought. The former gov actually received no fewer than 10 large booklets for new claimants from the Department of Labor.

The department is reporting a huge increase in fraudulent claims this spring, part of a national wave. The scope of the fraud is “unprecedented,” said the U.S. Department of Justice, which has set up a task force to combat it.

As many as 70 percent of the claims filed this month in Vermont are fraudulent, state Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said Monday.

Under the schemes — which are now being investigated by an alphabet soup of federal and state agencies, as well as banks and state attorneys general — scammers use unsuspecting people's personal information to collect benefits. 

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Census 2020: Vermont's Population Increased 2.8 Percent

Posted By on Mon, Apr 26, 2021 at 7:51 PM

FILE ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File ©️ Seven Days
Vermont's population grew 2.8 percent in the past decade, according to the 2020 U.S. Census — more than anticipated, possibly due to a pandemic-related bump.

The official tally of Green Mountain State residents was 643,077, up from 625,741 in the 2010 count, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. Vermont's growth lagged behind the 7.4 percent increase in the United States overall. The national growth, the New York Times reported, is the nation's most sluggish recorded population increase since the 1930s.

Aside from Massachusetts, which matched the national growth rate, New England states reported even smaller increases. Maine, with 2.6 percent growth, and Connecticut, with 0.9 percent, lagged behind Vermont. New Hampshire experienced 4.6 percent growth.

Gov. Phil Scott's office released a statement calling the bump a pleasant surprise, noting that 2019 estimates had suggested the state's population may have declined slightly.

"It is too early to see what might have driven that change, and we look forward to understanding why we outperformed the 2019 estimates," the governor's press secretary, Jason Maulucci, said in an emailed statement. "[B]ut one factor could be that Vermont’s leading response to the pandemic attracted people to move to our state."

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff Is Scheduled to Visit Vermont Wednesday

Posted By on Tue, Apr 20, 2021 at 7:26 PM

Doug Emhoff - COURTESY OF THE WHITE HOUSE
  • Courtesy of the White House
  • Doug Emhoff
Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, is planning a stop in Burlington on Wednesday. The Second Gentleman, a former entertainment lawyer, has been traveling the country along with members of the Biden-Harris administration in recent weeks, visiting vaccination sites and promoting the  $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Details are still in flux, but after arriving at Burlington International Airport on Wednesday morning, Emhoff may visit two sites in the Old North End, according to Jordan Redell, a spokesperson for Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. Stops tentatively include the Community Health Centers of Burlington and the Old North End Community Center, Redell said.

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Thursday, March 18, 2021

Leahy Reintroduces Bill to Clean Up EB-5 Foreign Investor Program

Posted By on Thu, Mar 18, 2021 at 7:31 PM

In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • File: JEB WALLACE-BROEDER
  • In 2016, then-Department of Financial Regulation commissioner Susan Donegan pointing to a chart detailing suspected EB-5 fraud

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is co-sponsoring a new bill to clean up the scandal-plagued federal program that resulted in what officials have called the largest financial fraud in Vermont history.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is again teaming up with fellow committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to introduce a suite of reforms to the EB-5 investor program.

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Monday, March 8, 2021

Vermont Small Businesses Will Have to Wait Months for Relief Money, Lawmakers Warn

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2021 at 10:47 PM

TIM NEWCOMB ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Tim Newcomb ©️ Seven Days
Members of Congress are putting the finishing touches on a $1.9 trillion relief package, which could get final approval in the U.S. House on Tuesday.

But Vermont lawmakers are already warning small business owners that it could be midsummer before they see any cash relief. Legislators must decide how and through what programs they will divvy up their expected $1.3 billion share of the pot, a process that could take months, House Speaker Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) cautioned during a virtual Vermont Chamber of Commerce meeting on Monday.

“This is the part we really struggled with last session: The time that it took for [federal officials] to put the rules together,” Krowinski said.

Last year, Vermont received a $1.25 billion share of the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress passed in March 2020. But it wasn't until early last July that the first business grants started accepting applications.

A similar scenario could also play out this time around, Krowinski said.

“Even if the money is approved in April or May, we may not get that until later in the summer,” she said.

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Leahy: Vermont Would Receive $1.3 Billion Under Proposed Relief Bill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2021 at 7:26 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy
A new stimulus proposal working its way through the U.S. Senate this week would net Vermont $1.3 billion, about $400 million more than what the state could expect from a House-passed version of the bill, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy's office.

The potential windfall comes after Leahy — who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee — successfully tweaked the $1.9 trillion relief proposal to beef up aid to small states and ensure they take in at least the same share they received under the initial COVID relief bill passed last March known as the CARES Act.

Vermont received $1.25 billion from that bill and used the money to fund a wide range of initiatives, from housing and rental assistance for the homeless to business grants and hazard pay.

"Vermonters can be confident that our state is getting its fair share in this package," said Leahy, who noted that the rest of Vermont's congressional delegation also pushed for the changes.

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Friday, February 12, 2021

Officials Say Company Is Failing to Deliver Emergency Food for Vermonters

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2021 at 8:15 PM

Cars line up to get food during a Farmers to Families Food Box drop last year - JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Cars line up to get food during a Farmers to Families Food Box drop last year
A federal contractor overseeing a pandemic food insecurity program has failed to live up to its obligations in Vermont, potentially leaving hundreds of families without access to emergency supplies, according to the state's congressional delegation.

In a joint letter on Friday, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) slammed New Jersey-based Global Trading Enterprises over its performance during the most recent round of the Farmers to Families Food Box program and urged the Biden administration to select another vendor to complete the contract.

"The failures of Global Trading [Enterprises] have made the program nearly inoperable in Vermont, leaving hungry Vermonters without the food they need," the lawmakers wrote in a press release, describing the company's service as "disorganized, inadequate, and opaque."

The Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed to address a pandemic-related spike in food insecurity by connecting needy families with American-grown products. The program has distributed more than 130 million boxes since May 2020.

The Abbey Group, an Enosburg Falls company, landed Vermont's first two delivery contracts and successfully delivered more than 550,000 boxes last summer. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the last three contracts to out-of-state companies "solely based on the lowest bid," the lawmakers said, and advocates have since reported distribution challenges.

The latest contract was announced January 19, the last full day of the Trump presidency. Global Trading Enterprises is now being paid $25.2 million to deliver the food boxes in Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania through April 30.

Though it's common for the federal government to award contracts to the lowest bidder, Vermont's federal lawmakers argue that Global Trading's bid was too low.

Their reasoning? The company is delivering boxes to only seven locations in just five of Vermont's 14 counties, they said. One local food shelf leader — who is not named in the letter — was even told that she would need to drive to the next county and wait in line for hours, the lawmakers wrote, "just for the possibility of receiving boxes when the delivery arrived."

"We are sure you will agree that this is a complete failure on the part of the vendor, which is required under their contract with the USDA to provide last mile delivery," the lawmakers wrote.

Leahy, Welch and Sanders are now asking the Biden administration to end the contract early and "thoroughly" investigate any violations to date. They said the contract should be put out to bid again to cover the last two months, and called on the USDA to consider past performance and prioritize vendors with successful track records when awarding the next bid.

Correction, February 22, 2021: Due to a source error, Global Trading Enterprises was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. The company is based in New Jersey.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Impeachment Trial Begins With Leahy at the Helm — and in the Spotlight

Posted By on Tue, Feb 9, 2021 at 4:23 PM

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday
Casting himself as reluctant but duty-bound, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) gaveled in the start of former president Donald Trump's second impeachment trial on Tuesday.

"As many of you know, I did not ask or seek to preside over this trial," Leahy wrote in a letter to his colleagues released just before the trial commenced on Tuesday afternoon. "Yet while I occupy the constitutional office of the President pro tempore, it is incumbent upon me to do so."

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