School bus drivers struggle to get financial help

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 3:36 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday that school openings in Vermont would be pushed back to September 8. While it will give schools extra time to prepare, some district employees may feel the financial burden that comes with the delay. As Elissa Borden reports, one local group of bus drivers is especially concerned about the delay.

James Kirkpatrick has been a school bus driver for nearly 15 years.

"I love my job," he said. "I drive basically special needs only, I don't know if that's going to change this year, however. I really love the kids that I drive and I enjoy the families."

Right now, Kirkpatrick is delivering meals to people in South Burlington 15 hours a week. That’s all he can get since summer school hours have been canceled. But it’s not enough to make ends meet.

"We need the help now," Kirkpatrick said.

He's not alone-- many of his fellow South Burlington bus drivers are in the same boat.

"Because of COVID-19, we would normally get summer school hours, schools out hours-- and that's a lot of hours that we're not getting. So, we have mortgages, bills, family life that we have to pay for," said Matt Holton, a school bus driver.

Holton tells me he's been in adjudication with unemployment for six weeks and he just wants an answer. Plus, meal delivery ends on August 14-- a three-week gap in pay between then and the September 8 school start date.

The Department of Labor tells me these employees may be eligible for unemployment because they normally work all year long and their hours were cut to less than 35 a week. Plus, drivers who work directly for districts have to jump through more hoops because they're considered education employees instead of transportation workers.

"Any individual who applies with educational wages in their base period has to be adjudicated because of this specific reason. Not only are we talking about every hourly employee who was laid off because the schools are closed, but every teacher who wanted to apply, every professor," said Cameron Wood, the unemployment insurance director for the Vermont Department of Labor.

The Department of Labor says they have a lot of these cases to wade through one by one and they expect to have them all resolved in the coming weeks. Eligible recipients will receive the backlog of benefits from their wait time.

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