Weekly unemployment claims in Vermont decreased for the third straight week, as March results moved closer to February’s relatively low levels. Last week there were 874 new regular benefit claims for Unemployment Insurance in Vermont last week. This is a decrease of 10 claims from the week before and is 57 higher than last year’s total.Altogether 9,687 new and continuing claims were filed, a decrease of 454 from a week ago and 2,346 fewer than a year ago. The Department also processed 1,515 First Tier claims for benefits under Emergency Unemployment Compensation, 2008 (EUC08), 14 more than a week ago. In addition, there were 718 Second Tier claims for benefits processed under the EUC08 program, which is 13 fewer than the week before. The Unemployment Weekly Report can be found at: http://www.vtlmi.info/(link is external). Previously released Unemployment Weekly Reports and other UI reports can be found at: http://www.vtlmi.info/lmipub.htm#uc(link is external) Vermont’s unemployment rate fell two-tenths to 4.9 percent in February. See story HERE.
Vermont continues to demonstrate national leadership for its commitment to pre-K access even as many states are faltering in their efforts to deliver high-quality preschool education to children most in need, says a landmark national report capping 10 years of research.â The State of Preschool 2011: State Preschool Yearbookâ shows Vermont has made tremendous progress in expanding access to early education over the last decade. Ten years ago the state ranked 18th for access. By 2010-2011, the Green Mountain State served a higher combined percentage of 3- and 4-years than any other state. Enrollment of 4-year-olds improved to third after increasing enrollment by 17 percent for 4-year-olds over the previous year. Vermont also ranks third for enrollment of 3-year-olds. The state has lost ground in its resource ranking, due in part to the delay in funding based on the current funding formula. It has not made commensurate gains in quality, meeting only four of 10 research-based quality standards benchmarks.â For the second year in a row, nationally weâ re seeing declines in real spending and per-child spending that strip resources from pre-K classrooms, many of which are already funded at levels below what it takes to deliver high-quality programs,’said Steve Barnett, director of the nonpartisan National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University that has surveyed state preschool programs on a number of measures since 2001-2002. Vermont Business Roundtable President Lisa Ventriss responded, â Vermont has become a leader in expanding access to early education through sustained bipartisan legislative efforts and gubernatorial support. Now it must turn its attention to improving quality standards which have not seen progress for years. While many local programs may exceed these standards, Vermont must improve statewide quality requirements to ensure the investments in pre-k are paying off, and that all children have the best possible outcomes from high-quality early education for long-term benefits.âNationally, the report shows a different picture as states that began or improved pre-K programs are now reducing their investments. In fact, many children who need access to high-quality pre-K programs still cannot attend.Twenty-eight percent of all 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds were served by state pre-K programs in the 2010-2011 school year, raising total enrollment to more than 1.3 million. But some states have opted to expand enrollment rather than maintain quality, resulting in greater access but lower standards. â If ignored, states run the risk of substituting inexpensive child care for preschool education,’Barnett said.State pre-K generally has enjoyed bipartisan support during its expansion over the past decade. An overwhelming body of research shows that high-quality pre-K prepares children to succeed in school, enroll in college or career training, and helps more students ultimately get better jobs that can help the nationâ s economy. This yearâ s report highlights national trends in pre-K programs over past 10 years.The Roundtable is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of 118 CEOs of Vermont’s top private and nonprofit employers, representing geographic diversity and all major sectors of the Vermont economy, with an aggregate economic impact of $292 billion, over $1.8 billion in corporate philanthropy, and employing more than 10 percent of the stateâ s workforce. The Roundtable is committed to sustaining a sound economy and preserving Vermontâ s unique quality of life by studying and making recommendations on statewide public policy issues.Vermont Business Roundtable. 5.1.2012.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced legislation Thursday to make permanent the charter for a successful, job-creating immigrant visa program that has brought economic development and job growth to Vermont since 1997. After months of negotiation, the legislation introduced Thursday by Leahy will grant a permanent authorization to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center program. Vermontâ s Regional Center has been a successful private-public partnership between the State of Vermont and several Vermont businesses. The bill introduced Thursday will also extend the voluntary E-Verify program, as well as two visa programs for religious workers and the so-called â Conrad 30,’or rural doctors, visa. The bill is co-sponsored by the Senate Judiciary Committeeâ s Ranking Member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). â Vermont has been a model for the success of the EB-5 Regional Center Program, and I want to see that great success continue for Vermonters, and those who wish to pursue business opportunities in our great state’said Leahy. â I am grateful that Senator Grassley has worked with me to craft this legislation, and I am optimistic its introduction marks the beginning of a strong bipartisan effort to make these long-standing programs permanent. When enacted, the measure we introduce today will also pave the way for my efforts to improve and build upon the EB-5 Regional Center Program to ensure stability for investors and entrepreneurs, and to ensure that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has the tools it needs to keep this program a strong, secure, and vital part of our economy.’ Leahy has successfully steered short-term extensions of the pilot program through Congress. The current authorization will expire in September 2012. Earlier this week, Leahy secured a three year extension of the programs during the Appropriations Committeeâ s consideration of the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. Vermontâ s Regional Center was re-chartered in 2007. Two Vermont ski resorts, Jay Peak and Sugarbush, are active participants in the Regional Center pilot program and have been engaged in ambitious development projects. Other capital investment projects are in the works around the state. Vermontâ s Regional Center projects have drawn business and tourism to the state, fueling local economies and creating jobs. Since it was created in 1993, the regional center program has attracted more than a billion dollars in foreign investment to the United States, and created thousands of new domestic jobs ‘hundreds, in Vermont. There are now over 220 Regional Centers across the country, with new applications pending. The Regional Center program attracts foreign investors seeking legal permanent residency and a chance to invest in the American economy. Investors must pledge a minimum of $500,000 to a project within an approved regional center and independently apply for an EB-5 visa. If approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), foreign investors are granted a conditional two-year green card. After two years, the investor must provide proof that they have created at least ten jobs as a result of the investment and have met additional investment requirements set by USCIS. As a result of the programâ s popularity, additional applications are pending with USCIS to establish new Regional Centers in several states. WASHINGTON (Thursday, May 24, 2012)
by Alicia Freese March 10, 2013 vtdigger.org The state’ s emergency housing program is bearing the fallout from a perfect storm: A growing number of people need emergency placements, the cost of putting them up is on the rise, and people are staying in the temporary housing for longer periods of time. The General Assistance Housing Program, which is administered through the Economic Services division of the Department of Children and Families, is the state’ s main apparatus for addressing homelessness.This year, the department has put more homeless Vermonters up in motels ‘ intended as a last-resort option when shelters are full ‘ than ever before. This emergency housing provided to people displaced by a ‘ catastrophic event’ accounts for much of the uptick in costs.Homeless advocates gather outside the Statehouse in January. Photo by Roger CrowleyDuring the last several weeks, DCF Commisioner Dave Yacavone has been peddling the department’ s fiscal year 2014 budget proposal to several legislative committees, including the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, and the House committees on Appropriations and General Housing and Military Affairs. The budget includes two proposals that would wean program off of reliance on motels, but advocates say it doesn’ t do nearly enough.For the upcoming year, Yacavone is hoping to cut emergency housing spending by $500,000 but the department still expects to funnel roughly $1.6 million into motel housing payments. ‘ We won’ t eliminate hotels. I would love to. We will vastly reduce it,’ Yacavone told VTDigger.Below is a wrap-up of the pressures on the program and the budgetary consequences.Ballooning expendituresThe GA housing program spent 78 percent more in 2012 than it did in 2010, and expenditures have taken another leap this year. The program will spend nearly $3.5 million by the close of FY2013, up from $2.4 million in 2012. Emergency housing currently accounts for about $2.2 million of the program budget. In FY2014, DCF hopes to reduce this to $1.6 million.The story behind the spendingCaseload growthIn FY 2008, the program served 548 households. In 2012, that number was 1,954. The prediction for the current year’ FY 2013’ is 3,108.The number of homeless children showing up in shelters has risen disproportionately, according to the AHS report. It increased 14 percent between FY 2011 and FY2012, whereas the total number of people in shelters stayed steady.Rising costsThe average cost per case has risen from $617 in 2010 to $1,138 in 2012.Longer staysThe average length of stay in emergency housing has climbed 43 percent in two years, from an average of 14 days in 2010 to 20 days in 2012. This trend, coupled with the caseload increase, has created a steep increase in the total number of days the program provides housing for ‘ from 23,564 days in 2010 to 38,350 in 2012. And in FY 2013, the number is expected to rise to 54,333 days.After-hours effectThe most dramatic upsurge has been the number of ‘ after-hours’ emergency housing requests made this winter. Starting in 2010, Vermont 2-1-1 began fielding all requests made after regular business hours. If the 2-1-1 operator determines that the caller meets the program criteria, they direct them to a shelter, or, if shelters are full, they are given a motel voucher. The number of requests has far exceeded shelter capacity. In Jan. 2012, 235 requests were made and 140 motel vouchers were distributed. This January, there were 1,015 requests, 731 of which received motel vouchers.Changes on the horizon for FY 2014Cutting individualsIn 2009, DCF expanded its eligibility guidelines to allow individuals, not just families, to access emergency housing. It is now proposing to ‘ dial back’ that change. According to its own estimates, roughly 45 percent of people receiving GA housing are individuals, and by cutting them from the program, the state will save between $800,000 and $1 million.http://vtdigger.org/2013/02/10/state-wants-to-end-practice-of-housing-ho…(link is external)Family Supportive HousingDCF also wants to set aside $450,000 to fund pilot programs in Burlington, Bennington, and Rutland to help homeless families move into housing by providing case management and financial support. Yacavone says this project will also help reduce the department’ s reliance on motels.
Vermont Business Magazine In a report released Friday, for the third year, Designated Downtowns in the Vermont Downtown Program(link is external) through the Agency of Commerce’s Division of Community Planning and Revitalization, saw increases in businesses and jobs created, rehabilitation projects, and public and private investments in downtown. With a seven percent increase over 2012, Vermont Downtowns realized nearly 600 new jobs and more than $100 million in private investments.The ACCD report said this growth came despite the disruption of major construction projects in downtowns around Vermont. Barre and St Albans completed major streetscape re-designs which included infrastructure improvements, sidewalk replacement and new lighting while Montpelier completed a district energy project. “People see the opportunities in historic downtown renewal in this state,” said Chip Sawyer, Community Development Director for the City of St Albans. “Despite our major streetscape construction, 11 businesses opened, expanded or moved into Downtown St. Albans in 2013, and brought about 200 jobs with them.” “Our downtowns have seen incredible business and job growth, even threw challenging, but much needed, transportation projects,” said Noelle MacKay, Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development. “Much of this success is due to the leadership of the local downtown organizations who spearheaded innovative marketing campaigns and worked with local businesses on promotions that continued to draw Vermonters and visitors.” Many of the 23 Designated Downtowns reporting reinvestment numbers, saw vacancies filled and described shop local movements such as the “We Dig Barre” campaign designed to keep customer traffic flowing in downtown during the major construction known in Barre as “The Big Dig,” or Waterbury’s “Wrap it up and Win” promotion which resulted in increased sales revenues for downtown businesses during the 2013 holiday shopping season.Additionally, downtowns organizations reported 87 public improvement projects amounting to more than $13 million reinvested downtown, 196 rehabilitation projects, 90 new housing units created, and more than 27,000 volunteer hours were donated making downtowns special places. Learn more at http://accd.vermont.gov/strong_communities(link is external).PHOTO: Construction in downtown St Albans City last August. VBM photo.
by Morgan True vtdigger.org(link is external) Newly released court documents show that Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Steven Costantino was aware that money in a loan-guarantee program he crafted as a lawmaker in Rhode Island was being set aside for the now bankrupt video game designer 38 Studios. In 2010, as chair of the Rhode Island House Finance Committee, Costantino helped craft and guide the passage of a $125 million loan guarantee program. The economic development program was increased from $50 million as a result of Costantino’s involvement.Steven Costantino (right) is commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. Photo by Morgan True/VTDiggerThough it was not public at the time, $75 million of that was earmarked to induce 38 Studios, the video game company owned by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, to move its operations from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. Less than two years later, the game maker went bankrupt.In a statement to VTDigger on Monday, Costantino said that while he was aware 38 Studios was a potential recipient of the program, he had no involvement with the failed loan.“I did not play any role in bringing (38 Studios) to Rhode Island as did others in government. I was tasked to handle the legislation affecting the company by my superiors. After that legislative activity, I had nothing to do with approving the loan to the company and have had nothing to do with the company ever since. I want to make it very clear that the legislation granted authority (to create the fund) only,” Costantino said.He declined to answer follow-up questions citing an ongoing civil lawsuit. One outstanding question for many in Rhode Island is why Costantino didn’t disclose 38 Studios as a likely beneficiary of the program he championed.The Rhode Island Economic Development Corp. (EDC) is suing Schilling and others who engineered the deal. Last week, a judge unsealed documents in the three-year-old lawsuit. Costantino is not named as a defendant in that lawsuit, but the documents show that he was aware that money was being set aside for 38 Studios.Costantino met with Schilling and former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox in late March or early April 2010, the documents show. Fox is in jail after being convicted on unrelated corruption charges. In a deposition, former EDC director Keith Stokes said he met with Costantino and Fox at Costantino’s Statehouse office around the same time, according to a WPRI Channel 12 report(link is external).“I was briefing them on a variety of different things. I said we met on two occasions with 38. We had a team in place and from that initial meeting of the team they brought back that their capital needs, relocating to Rhode Island was in the $75 million range,” Stokes said in the deposition, according to WPRI.Stokes said that Costantino’s response was, in part, “What if we were to add an additional 75 – it wasn’t called job creation, but this capital program would become $125 million program versus a $50 million program.”The loan guarantee program was originally part of a supplemental appropriation bill that sailed through the Rhode Island House but ran aground in the Senate. Costantino later introduced the loan guarantee program as standalone legislation, which was ultimately passed by the Legislature.The Providence Journal reviewed the legislative record from House debates on the loan guarantee program when it was still part of the larger appropriation bill. The review found(link is external) that Costantino “insisted that the loan guarantee program arose from a hearing two weeks earlier in which the business community encouraged the state to ramp up its portfolio of financial offerings and incentives.”After losing a bid for mayor of Providence, Costantino took a job as secretary of the Rhode Island Department of Health and Human Services, appointed by former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Costantino served in that role until shortly after Gov. Gina Raimondo took over.Raimondo hired former Green Mountain Care Board Chair Anya Rader Wallack to take over Rhode Island’s Affordable Care Act exchange, and shortly after that Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin announced he would hire Costantino to take over DVHA.Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said the governor and his staff were “generally aware” of Costantino’s involvement in the 38 Studios ordeal when he was hired. “Steven’s been doing a great job as commissioner. We’re lucky and glad to have him,” Coriell said.Lawrence Miller, a top Shumlin aide, said he was mostly focused on Costantino’s time with Rhode Island’s Health and Human Services Department, saying his experience with Medicaid and the Ocean State exchange made him an attractive candidate.Miller said he’s read some of the recent coverage of Costantino’s role in crafting the program that ultimately brought 38 Studios to Rhode Island.“At that time, it was really competitive,” Miller said. He said he wasn’t surprised that Rhode Island officials were working on a way to lure the company, which was being wooed by other states, too.As for Costantino not revealing that 38 Studios was the likely recipient of much of the money from the loan-guarantee program, Miller said he’s not aware of what’s customary in the Rhode Island Legislature, but it doesn’t surprise him that Costantino and others didn’t “broadcast” that intent to rank-and-file legislators.
Vermont Business Magazine The Green Mountain Care Board will hold a Rate Review Listening Forum from 1 pm to 2 pm on December 3, 2015 on the 2nd floor Board Room located at 89 Main Street, City Center, Montpelier, VT. During this time, Health Policy Director, Judy Henkin will give a brief overview of the Board’s role in health insurance regulation, and then we will devote the remaining time to listen to the voices of Vermont Businesses about their experiences and needs with health insurance in Vermont. There will be a sign-up sheet available for comment at the meeting. For those who are unable to attend this meeting, they can submit written public comment, either by email, [email protected](link sends e-mail), or by mail, 89 Main Street, Montpelier VT. They may also submit verbal comment by calling the Green Mountain Care Board at 802-828-2177The Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) will hold the following public meetings in December:· Thursday, December 3: · Rate Review Forum (1-2pm) · Thursday, December 10: · Board Meeting: Mental Health Integration (3-5pm)· Located in the GMCB Board Room on the 2nd Floor of the City Center Building at 89 Main Street, Montpelier· Wednesday, December 16:· Certificate of Need Hearing: (1pm) Copley Hospital Construction of New Surgical Suite, Renovations to Ambulatory Care Unit, and Backfill of Existing Surgical Suite (Docket No. GMCB-015-13con)· Located in the GMCB Board Room on the 2nd Floor of the City Center Building at 89 Main Street, Montpelier · Thursday, December 17: · Board Meeting: Update on HIT Plan progress (1pm)· Located in the GMCB Board Room on the 2nd Floor of the City Center Building at 89 Main Street, Montpelier· Tuesday, December 24: CANCELED· Thursday, December 31: CANCELED**All meeting agendas are subject to change. Please see the GMCB website, gmcboard.vermont.gov(link is external), for the most up to date meeting agendas.**
Northstar Vermont Yankee,by Mike Faher/The Commons, Brattleboro(link is external) Entergy spent $58 million from the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund in the first year after the Vernon nuclear plant’s shutdown, the company disclosed. Overall, with investment income and trust administrative expenses figured in, the fund decreased by about $69 million in 2015 — from $664.56 million to $595.4 million at year’s end. Administrators said the new figures show that Entergy is in compliance with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and is on track financially in the early stages of Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning.“The good news is, we’re still well above the NRC required minimum balance for the trust,” said Joe Lynch, Entergy Vermont Yankee’s government affairs manager. “And we are under budget, overall.”Entergy ceased producing power at Vermont Yankee in December 2014 and is preparing the site for a period of extended dormancy called SAFSTOR. Decommissioning can take up to 60 years under that program, though the actual schedule depends in part on the growth of the plant’s trust fund.Entergy has estimated that decommissioning Vermont Yankee will cost $1.24 billion. The trust fund contained a little over half that sum when the plant shut down, and Entergy in early 2015 began spending fund money on a variety of operational expenses, including salaries and utilities.The trust fund has been the subject of much debate. Vermont officials have challenged several of Entergy’s proposed fund uses, and they are particularly upset that the NRC decided to allow the company to withdraw fund money for long-term management of Yankee’s spent nuclear fuel.RELATED: VY, state spar over testing of groundwaterThe state has filed a lawsuit and a hotly contested petition seeking to block that use.But the NRC says its reviews show that there will be enough money both for decommissioning and for spent fuel management at Vermont Yankee. Those reviews are ongoing.In January, the commission’s staff issued a memo saying Entergy Vermont Yankee and a long list of other plant owners had provided “decommissioning funding assurance” in their most-recent reports.It can be difficult to draw conclusions from short-term changes in Vermont Yankee’s decommissioning trust, given market fluctuations and monthly withdrawals that factor into the bottom line.However, Entergy’s new numbers provide a clearer picture of trust-fund spending at post-shutdown Vermont Yankee.Spokesman Marty Cohn said the company withdrew $58 million in 2015, while trust expenses (mostly taxes) further decreased the fund by $16 million and investment income increased it by $5 million.Lynch said that investment return is in line with expectations.“The trust is very conservatively invested, so we wouldn’t expect to see huge swings” in the fund’s value, he said.Overall, Entergy administrators continue to say their post-shutdown Vermont Yankee spending has been lower than anticipated.While Lynch didn’t have an updated budget number, Vermont Yankee Site Vice President Chris Wamser said in November that decommissioning work was about $5 million under budget.As Lynch reviewed 2015 plant statistics in preparation for the latest episode of “SAFSTOR Matters,” Vermont Yankee’s local television show, he said there are several factors driving the below-budget trend.First, he said an on-site committee is “rigorously” reviewing every decommissioning cost proposed at the plant and is seeking competitive bidding for that work.At the same time, Lynch said Entergy is committed to hiring local contractors and vendors.“We are very focused on using local labor and local companies where possible, and frankly, by doing that, we save a lot of money,” Lynch said.He also said Vermont Yankee’s payroll has been below budget because the plant’s workforce has been lower than expected. Staffing was cut from 550 just before shutdown to 316 in January 2015, and that number has dropped to 282.“People have left on their own that we didn’t anticipate, so therefore those costs (have been reduced),” Lynch said.Vermont Yankee is planning to further reduce its workforce to about 150 in May, due to NRC-approved emergency changes at the plant.Finally, Lynch said Entergy has continued “draining and laying up” systems that are no longer needed at the plant. There are about 50 such systems; by the end of 2015, Lynch said, 35 of those had been shut down.Such changes are important financially because, unlike when the plant was operating, Vermont Yankee now gets electric bills from Green Mountain Power. Lynch said those bills during 2015 had been exceeding $100,000 per month, and Entergy has enlisted Efficiency Vermont to try to find additional ways to cut utility costs.“I know we’ve been making a very focused effort to get these (unused) buildings ‘cold and dark,’ and that’s reduced our electric bill,” Lynch said. “Anytime we can use (Efficiency Vermont’s) expertise … it always helps.”
Vermont Business Magazine Based on an alert from the US Department of Homeland Security, Burlington Electric Department confirmed that it had discovered late Thursday presumed Russian malware in one of its laptops, which was not connected to its network. Homeland Security issued the alert to all US utilities.A statement from BED Saturday said: “Cybersecurity is an issue that the Burlington Electric Department and all US utilities take very seriously and on which we focus every day to protect the integrity of the electric grid and the personal information of our valued customers. “Federal officials have indicated that the specific type of Internet traffic, related to recent malicious cyber activity that was reported by us yesterday, also has been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric. It’s unfortunate that an official or officials improperly shared inaccurate information with one media outlet, leading to multiple inaccurate reports around the country.”At Burlington Electric, where we take great pride in conveying timely and accurate information, we want our community to know that there is no indication that either our electric grid or customer information has been compromised. Media reports stating that Burlington Electric was hacked or that the electric grid was breached are false.”We want to thank our customers for their continued confidence and trust in Burlington Electric.”A statement from BED Friday said: “Last night, US utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks. We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding. Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully.”Governor Peter Shumlin issued a scathing statement against Russia and Russian President Putin. Russia has also been implicated by the Obama Administration in cyber-operations to influence the US presidential election: “We’ve been in touch with the federal government, state officials, and Vermont’s utilities on this matter. Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety. This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling. I call upon the federal government to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”Other Vermont politicians also weighed in.US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont): “State-sponsored Russian hacking is a serious threat, and the attempts to penetrate the electric grid through a Vermont utility are the latest example. My staff and I were briefed by Vermont State Police Colonel Matthew Brimingham this evening. This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides – this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”Representative Peter Welch (D-VT) said: “This attack shows how rampant Russian hacking is. It’s systemic, relentless, predatory. They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country. We must remain vigilant, which is why I support President Obama’s sanctions against Russia and its attacks on our country and what it stands for.”Green Mountain Power said in a statement that it did not find any malware: “Green Mountain Power did not self-report a security incident. Our teams have done a complete systems check and found no security concerns. GMP was also recently thoroughly reviewed for safety by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The company will continue to rigorously monitor our system and remain vigilant.”Vermont Electric Cooperative issued a statement also saying that no malware was discovered: “In regard to the recent Department of Homeland Security malware code alert, VEC has no evidence of a threat to our system. VEC recently participated in a rigorous Risk Vulnerability Assessment with the Department of Homeland Security and has complied with the White House security protocol, C2M2, since 2012. Cyber security is part of our overall safety program which involves review by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Vermont National Guard. VEC will continue to work diligently to ensure we reduce the odds of a cyber-attack.”The Obama Administration’s Response to RussiaOn Thursday, President Obama authorized actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election and other cyber-attacks attributed to Russia.President Obama authorized a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election in 2016. Russia’s cyber activities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government. These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.The President released the following statement(link is external) regarding Thursday’s actions:”Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election. These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my Administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences. Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners. Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity, to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized. In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance. To that end, my Administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”Here are some of the ways in which President Obama is taking action:Sanctioning Malicious Russian Cyber ActivityIn response to the threat to U.S. national security posed by Russian interference in our elections, the President has approved an amendment to Executive Order 13964(link is external). As originally issued in April 2015, this Executive Order created a new, targeted authority for the U.S. government to respond more effectively to the most significant of cyber threats, particularly in situations where malicious cyber actors operate beyond the reach of existing authorities. The original Executive Order focused on cyber-enabled malicious activities that:Harm or significantly compromise the provision of services by entities in a critical infrastructure sector;Significantly disrupt the availability of a computer or network of computers (for example, through a distributed denial-of-service attack); orCause a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain (for example, by stealing large quantities of credit card information, trade secrets, or sensitive information).Read more about today’s sanctions on Russia here.(link is external)Responding to Russian Harassment of U.S. PersonnelOver the past two years, harassment of our diplomatic personnel in Russia by security personnel and police has increased significantly and gone far beyond international diplomatic norms of behavior. Other Western Embassies have reported similar concerns. In response to this harassment, the President has authorized the following actions:Today the State Department declared 35 Russian government officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco “persona non grata.” They were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status. Those individuals and their families were given 72 hours to leave the United States.In addition to this action, the Department of State has provided notice that as of noon on Friday, December 30, Russian access will be denied to two Russian government-owned compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York.Raising Awareness About Russian Malicious Cyber ActivityThe Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) that contains declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence services’ malicious cyber activity, to better help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.The JAR includes information on computers around the world that Russian intelligence services have co-opted without the knowledge of their owners in order to conduct their malicious activity in a way that makes it difficult to trace back to Russia. In some cases, the cybersecurity community was aware of this infrastructure, in other cases, this information is newly declassified by the U.S. government.The report also includes data that enables cyber security firms and other network defenders to identify certain malware that the Russian intelligence services use. Network defenders can use this information to identify and block Russian malware, forcing the Russian intelligence services to re-engineer their malware. This information is newly de-classified.Finally, the JAR includes information on how Russian intelligence services typically conduct their activities. This information can help network defenders better identify new tactics or techniques that a malicious actor might deploy or detect and disrupt an ongoing intrusion.Read more about this action here.(link is external)As the Administration stated today, cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges the United States faces today. For the last eight years, this Administration has pursued a comprehensive strategy to confront these threats. And as we have demonstrated by these actions today, we intend to continue to employ the full range of authorities and tools, including diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, and law enforcement mechanisms, to counter the threat posed by malicious cyber actors, regardless of their country of origin, to protect the national security of the United States.Here’s a look at the specifics on how the Administration is responding to Russia: Department of State actions in response to Russian harassment(link is external)Treasury sanctions on two individuals for malicious cyber enabled activity(link is external)Joint DHS, ODNI, FBI statement on Russian malicious cyber activity (link is external)DHS and FBI Joint Analysis Report(link is external)Sources: BED 12.30.2016, 12.31.2016. Governor Shumlin 12.31.2016. VEC 12.30.2016. Senator Leahy 12.30.2016. Congressman Welch 12.30.2016. The White House 12.29.2016.
Vermont Business Magazine Mayor Miro Weinberger today joined Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, Vermont State Police Criminal Division Commander Major Glenn Hall, and representatives from the Burlington, Colchester, South Burlington, and Winooski Police Departments in expressing support for S22, an act relating to increased penalties for knowingly dispensing, selling, or possessing with the intent to distribute fentanyl.“Fentanyl traffickers are here and sowing great damage in our community,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “Vermont police and prosecutors need updated laws to confront them. This is a time for urgent action, not study.”“The new collaboration between my office, the City of Burlington, and our regional police departments has revealed a concerning increase in suspected fentanyl-related overdoses here in Chittenden County,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George. “We have seen in neighboring states the damage that fentanyl can do. This proposed legislation will be crucial in helping us curb increased fentanyl distribution in Chittenden County by creating stronger penalties for the trafficking and sale of fentanyl.”“Throughout New England, fentanyl is outpacing heroin as a killer at rates of up to sixty to one,” said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo. “From treatment to recovery to enforcement, we need good tools at our disposal to address this crisis. The ability to charge fentanyl dealers with the same type of felony as heroin dealers is essential to protecting public health and safety.”Participants in Wednesday’s press conference noted that neighboring New Hampshire has seen a dramatic increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths in recent years. In 2016, fentanyl played a role in 326 out of 479 drug overdose-related deaths. Of all overdose deaths, fentanyl was listed as the sole cause of death in 198 cases, while heroin was listed as the sole cause in three.Although the number of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Vermont is lower than in neighboring states, Vermont has seen a tenfold increase in fentanyl-related overdose fatalities over the past six years, from five in 2010 to 51 in 2016.Recent overdoses in the Chittenden County region suggest this trend may be worsening. Between April 4 and April 18, Burlington, Colchester, Milton, South Burlington, and Winooski Police Departments reported 13 opioid-related overdose incidents, some with multiple individuals overdosing, and two of which resulted in fatalities. These five police departments have increased the level of coordination in recent months as part of the Mayor’s “CommunityStat” effort designed to bring together the many stakeholders working to address the opioid crisis. While it is too early to determine the exact opioids contributing to these overdoses, it is suspected fentanyl contributed to the majority of the overdoses.Yet the dispensation or sale of fentanyl is not a felony in Vermont, and penalties for the sale, dispensation, and transportation of fentanyl do not reflect the severity of its impact. The Mayor, State’s Attorney, and representatives from the region’s police departments all noted the need for a change to empower the court system to treat fentanyl the way it treats heroin.See the Senate Journal excerpt from April 25, 2017 reflecting the current S.22 language regarding fentanyl penalties Page 650 HERE.(link is external)