With the partial government shutdown approaching its first month, some food shelves are making efforts to help furloughed federal workers.
Mary Zigman, executive director of Rutland County Parent Child Center, said her organization, which runs a food shelf among other services, is stockpiling more food and reaching out to furloughed federal workers.
As of Thursday, the federal government has been partially shut down for 27 days. The shutdown commenced when President Donald Trump didn’t sign a spending bill passed by Congress because the bill didn’t contain $5.7 billion for a wall along the southern border. According to national media, negotiations haven’t gone well when they’ve occurred, and the shutdown isn’t likely to end soon.
“The Federal Government has provided budgeting tips to many workers, but there are many immediate needs that will not be met until the government reopens,” said Zigman in a statement. “Simple budgeting tips don’t bridge the gap; budgeting is ultimately not the problem. It’s hard to miss a paycheck in any circumstance. Therefore, we have decided to step in with what services we can offer.”
Zigman said many are under the impression that all federal workers have large salaries. They do not, she said.
“I’m getting as much extra food as I can,” said Beth Miller, community impact director for the Rutland County Parent Child Center. She said the group gets its food from the Vermont Foodbank, a group that supplies many food pantries and meal programs.
Tom Donahue, CEO of BROC-Community Action of Southwestern Vermont, which administers a food shelf, heating fuel and other assistance programs, said the BROC pantry plans to be open Jan. 26 specifically for furloughed federal workers in need. The pantry there normally isn’t open Saturdays, he said.
Donahue said there hasn’t been a lot of furloughed workers coming to BROC, at least not yet, but food pantries don’t want to be ill-prepared if they do. He said many in that population may not have had to think about using a food pantry before, and might not know what their options are.
“I felt like it was on us to raise our profile a bit,” he said on Thursday.
The Saturday opening is still in its early planning stages, he said, so there weren’t many details to share.
Winona Johnson, food and nutrition coordinator at Capstone Community Service, which runs a food pantry in Barre, said Capstone is also preparing to serve more people if need be, and to spread the word, but didn’t have many details to share Thursday.
On Thursday, the state’s legislative leaders announced resources available to furloughed federal workers, and anyone else in need.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe led a news conference Thursday during which they talked about the shutdown. They encouraged those affected to contact Vermont211 by visiting its website, www.vermont211.org/, or calling 211 (1-866-652-4636). Vermont211 has contact information for entities offering a wide variety of assistance.
“The State has sufficient cash on hand and expects to weather the federal shutdown through March and into early April, if necessary,” said State Treasurer Beth Pearce, in a statement. “This does not change the fact that the federal shutdown impacts individuals such as those receiving certain types of federal benefits, federal employees who work hard and expect to be paid, access to our historic sites and federal properties, and frankly, the loss of economic activity due to these disruptions. The bottom line is that this situation has real and lasting impacts on the financial well-being of Vermonters.”
MONTPELIER — A tri-partisan coalition of lawmakers is asking for time and money, though they only spoke about the need for the former during a Thursday afternoon news conference that set the stage for a legislative debate over what to do about Act 46.
With three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school district consolidation law now pending and important deadlines looming, the group, led by Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Rep. Mollie Burke, P-Brattleboro, made the case for “pressing the pause button” on Act 46.
Claiming time isn’t on the side of dozens of school districts that were recently ordered to merge under the most controversial aspect of the law, Mrowicki, Scheuermann and Burke took turns touting the need for an extension — if not a flat-out moratorium — given what they view as its questionable constitutionality.
The coalition has proposed both in a pair of bills that were read for the first time Thursday and referred to the House Education Committee.
One of the bills would essentially grant a one-year extension to districts that were ordered by the State Board of Education late last year. Barring a judicial reprieve, those districts, which are now scheduled to be launched July 1 would have an extra 12 months to prepare for the state-imposed transition.
The other calls for a moratorium that would put involuntary mergers on hold until all of the pending litigation and any subsequent appeals are resolved.
In separate legislation the same group of lawmakers is asking transition grants afforded to districts that voluntarily merged be provided to those districts that didn’t. Based on the proposed formula, those grants would amount to $150,000 for most, if not all, districts.
Though he is among the listed co-sponsors Mrowicki said he wasn’t familiar with the details of that legislation when asked about it after Thursday’s news conference in the Cedar Creek Room at the State House had ended.
Mrowicki kicked off the press conference by making a pitch for more time.
“We’re at the stage of enactment of Act 46 that might be similar to that last mile of broadband service lots of us are hoping for,” he said. “There’s no easy solutions, and it’s going to take time, and that’s what we’re asking for.
“The low-hanging fruit has been picked, and now the more difficult situations are remaining,” he added. “Making this even more difficult is the flexibility that we thought we wrote into Act 46 and Act 49 has not been exercised.”
Instead many districts have been ordered to merge prompting three recently filed lawsuits that await their first hearings. One has challenged the forced merger of the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school districts, another was filed on behalf of 32 school districts from several different supervisory unions around the state and the latest seeks to block a merger involving the school district in Huntington.
Scheuermann argued there are a lot of questions raised in those lawsuits that won’t be answered before districts are required to merge.
“We are … in limbo,” she said. “We don’t know what the results of those legal cases are going to be.”
That’s why, Scheuermann said, the coalition of lawmakers is focused on getting an extension that would give the legal process time to play out without disrupting existing school districts.
“What we can’t do … is move forward on involuntary mergers because … it will be virtually impossible to unravel those merged districts once they’re merged,” she said.
Burke echoed that assessment, suggesting the requested moratorium was warranted “so that we can untangle the legal issues before we move forward.”
Flanked by several fellow lawmakers Mrowicki and Scheuermann spoke with guarded optimism about the prospects of passing one of the two bills they said would delay implementation of the forced mergers.
Mrowicki said House and Senate leaders were “very receptive” during initial conversations.
“We’re hopeful we can find a middle way forward,” he said without elaborating.
Scheuermann added, “There is certainly an openness on the part of leaders in both chambers at this point,” describing the proposed extension as “the smart and responsible thing to do.”
A Castleton family wants to turn the long-vacant Flory’s Plaza into an entertainment hotspot for adults, children and especially teenagers.
“I guess we’re ready to start doing some construction and remodeling,” said Don Folsom on Thursday at the plaza on Business Route 4 just west of the Rutland Town Fire Station. “Right now we own Jump Fore Fun down on Granger Street, where we offer bounce houses, a little blacklight mini golf course. We brought in some arcades. We do birthday parties there. We’re running out of room and want to expand more.”
Folsom and his wife, Casie, bought Jump Fore Fun in May after the former owner mentioned to them she planned to close the Granger Street business in two weeks. Folsom said he happened to see some buildings being demolished at Flory’s Plaza earlier this year and after speaking with workers there, was put in touch with the Flory family who’ve owned it since it was built in the 1970s.
John Flory said Thursday that the Folsoms have signed a 3-year lease-to-own agreement, and he’s excited to see what they’ll do with the place.
“Part of the reason we partnered with (Folsom) was, we believe in him,” Flory said.
Flory’s grandfather, John D. Flory Sr., started the plaza in the 1970s. It’s hosted several small vehicle dealerships, a snack bar famous for its 49-cent hamburgers and a garage, among other businesses. It’s been vacant for the past 8 years, since the U.S. Post Office pulled out.
Folsom said his family will do as much of the required renovation work as possible by themselves. The building needs to be cleared out and cleaned, and will require somewhere around $150,000 in renovations. While the structure is in good shape with no asbestos or mold, it does have a leaky roof and is without water or power.
“We boarded up all the windows; we did have vagrants using it for a place to stay,” he said. “They actually fashioned a little campfire. Fortunately, it has a concrete floor.”
He hopes all the necessary work will be done within 6 to 9 months. Summers are something of a slow time for the bounce-house business, he said, especially when the weather is hot; people head to swimming holes or pools.
“We’re hoping to add a second blacklight mini golf course, hopefully a couple more party rooms so we can offer more time slots for parties, hopefully, a play structure for the little kids and more arcades. Hopefully, some kind of a teen lounge area,” he said.
He seemed especially keen on creating a spot for older kids and teenagers to hang out.
“Back in the day you could go to a bowling alley and play pool or whatever after school, but most of those places are gone now and they don’t have pool tables even if they’re there,” he said. “It’s tough. There’s a lot of kids going out and getting in trouble because they have no place to just hang out and feel comfortable.”
The new location is far more visible than Jump Fore Fun’s current spot, he said. He’s heard from several people who’ve booked Jump Fore Fun’s space that they never knew it existed until recently.
The bouncy houses, Folsom thinks, will go on the side of the building closest to the road. It has a basement area for mini golf. Folsom said he and the family want to lease some of the building to a food vendor.
Moving out of the city also makes sense financially for the business, he said.
“With the city’s different taxes and stuff, we get hit with the entertainment and bar tax, so the city gets 1 percent of our proceeds, and the city also has a tax on property owned by the business,” Folsom said. “With the different property taxes and stuff it’s ... not cost effective to run a business in Rutland City, especially a small business.”
Jump Fore Fun is open Fridays and weekends.
“When we move in here we’ll be open probably 5 days a week, closed mid-week, that way we can pick up any Monday holidays and stuff like that,” he said.
This will likely mean some hiring, but Folsom has concerns about a possible $15 minimum wage hike being considered in the Legislature. Right now, he said, Jump Fore Fun is affordable. Prices will have to rise some due to the increase in overhead, but he worries finding part-time help at a $15 minimum wage will force prices up above what the area can afford.
“If we were in Glens Falls (New York) we’d be charging six to seven times what we charge now for just what we offer,” he said. “This area I don’t think has the economic demographics to support it, that kind of pricing.”
Folsom said the Flory’s Plaza sign will remain where it is, a nod to the past, when that stretch of road bustled with activity and lights. The 45-acre lot offers a great deal of space with the smaller buildings now gone. Folsom said his dream, perhaps 6 or 7 years from now, is to have go-karts and other outdoor activities available.
“My oldest kid, (Jayanna) she’s so excited at Jump Fore Fun, she wants to be able to take on more responsibility,” Folsom said. “She’s only 8, but she wants to run the register, she does all the ticket redemption.”
His youngest, Jazlyn, 6, also liked to help with the business.
Members of the Rutland County chapter of the NAACP have concerns about the response from Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan to what he called the “vicious racial harassment” of former state Rep. Kiah Morris.
Morris withdrew her bid for re-election last year because of harassment online and elsewhere over a period of about two years. Max Misch, who admitted to harassing Morris, showed up at a news conference Monday in Bennington where Donovan said his office’s investigation found no crimes had been committed that he could prosecute.
Donovan said the messages sent to Morris were protected free speech, especially as they were directed toward someone who was an elected official at the time.
Tabitha Pohl-Moore, Vermont director of the NAACP and president of the Rutland-area branch, said Donovan’s findings were “concerning.”
“What we just did was set a very clear line about about how far white supremacists or people who would do harm to others — we just set a very clear line about where they’re allowed to go and not be held accountable,” Pohl-Moore said.
Mia Schultz, a Bennington resident and NAACP member who attended Monday’s news conference, said it was another example of what often happens to people of color when “people being oppressed have to teach the oppressors.”
“To me, it’s convenient, for lack of a better word, it’s convenient since the people who determine that this speech falls under the law as being protected speech, don’t ever experience it, don’t ever know the ramifications of this speech. But history has shown us it’s in our everyday being that those words and speech do have violent undertones,” Schultz said.
Pohl-Moore, who wondered why Misch’s actions weren’t considered stalking, said she wasn’t advocating for free speech to be curtailed. She said there was a difference between free speech, hate speech and threatening speech.
“There’s a difference between espousing your views and telling someone very clearly ‘I want you dead.’ Telling someone that every time they’re out in public you’re going to be there with your gun on your hip. That is not the same thing as your right to be a bigoted person. There’s a difference. That’s the line we need to be talking about. This whole idea that we can’t move, it is absolutely untrue. The number of amendments we have speak to that. The fact that we continue to change laws related to who can get married or who is a citizen, all of these things indicate that we are a society that grows based on the dominant culture ability to understand that they’re not the only one,” she said.
Both Pohl-Moore and Schultz questioned whether Morris had been treated in the same way a white legislator would be treated when reporting a threat.
“If Kiah had been protected by the police, if a proper investigation was done, if they could link something to somebody, if they provided security for her. If they did what they would do for a white person, do you think she would still feel compelled to resign? I don’t think so,” Schultz said.
Pohl-Moore asked if someone had murdered Morris whether the Vermont attorney general’s office would have agreed the person making threats had “crossed the line.”
“Does she have to die for that to happen? … Why can’t you (in law enforcement) understand it? Why don’t you get that her life is in danger?”
Pohl-Moore said she was tired of waiting for people to figure out that people of color and members of marginalized groups are being incredibly harmed.
Schultz said there was bias in the way the incidents were discussed. She asked why the media and law-enforcement were not describing Misch’s actions as “terrorism.”
Since Monday’s news conference, Pohl-Moore said she has spoken with Morris and her husband, James Lawton. She said she has seen comments online that suggest Morris and Lawton “just weren’t strong enough” to ignore the harassment.
“That’s what happens because rather than face the system and say to the system, ‘No, this is wrong,’ we collectively have decided, Kiah just needs to buck up,” Pohl-Moore said.
Schultz added the response to what happened to Morris provided insight into why people of color don’t speak up about bias and harassment.
“Kiah was violated more than once. She was violated by Max Misch. She was violated by the system that didn’t protect her. And now once again, she’s being violated in the media, in the press that she’s basically too weak, she don’t have thick enough skin,” Schultz said.
Schultz said state officials and the media didn’t want to look at the hard questions about existing bias in the system against people of color and marginalized people.
She asked why television news stories about Monday’s news conference didn’t show the people of color who were distraught and consoling each other.
“(We were) helping each other. That wasn’t shown, that the hurt is widespread, it didn’t happen to just Kiah,” Schultz said.
Donovan will meet with the NAACP’s Rutland chapter on Jan. 23. Pohl-Moore said questions had been discussed in advance but after the Monday meeting, members of the group will ask questions about what happened to Morris, how law-enforcement responded and how the future responses can be improved.
National Weather Service says the weekend weather event could bring as much as 12 inches of snow to the area and leave frigid temperatures in its wake. A3
Martin McDonough Gymnasium will be the scene tonight of the annual Mount St. Joseph and Rutland High School boys basketball showdown. Tipoff time is 7 p.m. B1