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Sanders, Scott push $71M in summer youth program funding

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 6:21 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Education officials say that any Vermont student who wants to participate in an educational program this summer will be able to. That’s the goal behind a new initiative called Summer Matters, launched by the Scott administration, with the help of $71 million in federal relief funding.

“This would really give us a wonderful opportunity to welcome teens back to the center and to expand programming beyond the center, which is not something we normally are able to do,” said Nicole Bachand with the Washington County Youth Service Bureau, a nonprofit community-based organization that usually has to find its own funding for its Basement Teen Center and other youth summer programs. Bachand and others say they could use the extra federal dollars to host activities outside the facility including field trips.

“With the end of the pandemic in sight, we want to do whatever we can to give our kids a great summer to replace some of what they’ve lost,” said Gov. Phil Scott, in announcing the Summer Matters program Friday.

Some of what kids have lost in community connection and educational enrichment. “We want all children and youth to participate in something great this summer, no matter their age, family background, or financial resources, their primary language, geographic location, ability status, or specific interests,” said Vermont Deputy Education Secretary Heather Bouchey.

Senator Bernie Sanders says federal pandemic relief funding from the American Rescue Plan will make that possible. The state has set aside $1.5 million in grant funding for independent summer programs like the Basement Teen Center. An additional $71 million will go to school districts to develop and improve existing summer programs.

Sanders says the funding ideally will allow the school-run programs to be offered to students free of charge. “God knows I think that money is needed, and I look forward to working with the governor and Legislature to make sure that we spend it in the most imaginative, creative, and of course effective, way,” he said.

While the state launched a website for families to find and learn about local summer programs, officials say each community, school district, or program will be responsible for formulating specific ways to use the money. “What should our children and youth be doing this summer? What do they want to be doing and how do we make that happen?” said Holly Morehouse, the executive director of Vermont Afterschool. She says for programs like the Basement Teen Center, the answer could be hiring more employees, which opens up more slots for students.

“Definitely, we’ll be able to serve more youth and expand our staffing as well,” Bachand said.

Some of those employees might be the teens themselves, as a major element of the program is geared towards youth employment, internships, and professional development. The money lasts for the next three to four years.

VACCINATION EFFORTS EXPANDING

Nearly 44% of Vermonters 16 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

Starting Monday, those 30 and older can sign up for vaccination starting at 8:15 a.m.

As part of the state’s effort to boost low vaccination rates in Essex County and adjoining areas, the hospital in Colebrook, New Hampshire will begin vaccinating Vermonters on April 19th. More pharmacies are also joining the state’s program too, including Shaws, which starts Friday. Rite Aid and Price Chopper will begin on April 12.

An estimated 3, 671 homebound Vermonters have now received at least one dose. Those who are homebound, or know someone who is, can call a dedicated hotline: 833-722-0860.

HEALTH UPDATE

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says high case counts and outbreaks are likely to continue over next month or so until more younger Vermonters are vaccinated. He said risky behavior, pandemic fatigue, gatherings, and up to three known COVID variants detected in Vermont are contributing to the spread.

Levine reiterated the new travel policy that took effect Friday that now requires testing for unvaccinated individuals and no requirements for those who are vaccinated.

As of Friday, Vermont health officials reported 145 new coronavirus cases for a total of 20,815. There have been a total of 231 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 2%. A total of 364,178 people have been tested, and 17,096 have recovered.

RELIEF SPENDING

Gov. Phil Scott Friday outlined his budget priorities first presented earlier this week on how to spend $1 billion in relief funding from the American Rescue Plan.

He says up to $9,000 in financial assistance is available for families who lost a loved one to COVID-19, and $35,000 for more than one. Contact FEMA: 844-684-6333.

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