Vermont hazard pay program opens

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MONTPELIER — While announcing the start of a hazard pay program, Gov. Phil Scott thanked legislators and frontline workers but said the best way to support those workers is to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19 by following public health guidance.

"Our numbers continue to look good in Vermont but we must remain vigilant to keep it that way," he said Tuesday during the twice-weekly news conference on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that a vaccine is likely several months away.

"Taking personal responsibility is the best way to keep this in check, protect our health care systems and win the war against this invisible enemy."

Approved by the Vermont Legislature in late June, the hazard pay program is being run on a first-come, first-serve basis and funded with $28 million. Employers apply via humanservices.vermont.gov.

Mike Smith, secretary of human services, counted about 130 applications within immediate opening at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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Depending on the number of hours worked during the pandemic, recipients can get between $1,200 and $2,000 in hazard pay if they make less than $25 an hour. Eligible employers include assisting living facilities, nursing homes, residential care homes, therapeutic facilities, health care facilities, physician offices, dentist offices, homeless shelters, home health agencies, health centers, rural health clinics and ambulance services.

Thompson House rehabilitation and nursing center in Brattleboro applied for 71 employees in an application submitted at 9:33 a.m. Tuesday, facility administrator Dane Rank told the Reformer. He had advocated for hazard pay during the pandemic.

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"All of us at Thompson House are reinvigorated by this special consideration of the staff who put themselves at risk every day to ensure the well-being of our community's most vulnerable," he said in an email response.

After 85 Vermont inmates in a Mississippi prison tested positive for COVID-19, Smith said efforts are underway to bring testing standards for a part of the facility where Vermonters are incarcerated up to those in Vermont prisons. He wants regular testing of the prison population and separation of inmates who test negative from those who test positive.

"We may put boots on the ground there," he said, "if we feel that it's necessary."

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Scott said his administration had proposed a new prison facility in Vermont but it wasn't "well received" by legislators or others in the state.

"I do think it's time to revisit that," he said.

Vermont has relied on out-of-state correctional facilities for "a long, long time," Smith said, adding that state officials want uniformity for all Vermont prisoners. He called quarantine and sanitation practices in Vermont prisons "some of the best in the country right now."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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