Legislative Update 3-22
Although the ink is barely dry, the Vermont Senate is taking full advantage of the $1.3 billion expected to come to Vermont from the latest federal COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). On Friday, senators advanced a state COVID relief bill with $63 million in federal funding. Unlike the last round of funding, which needed to be spent in a matter of months, the expiration date for ARPA funding is by the end of 2024. As discussions progress, VAHHS will continue to advocate for workforce initiatives, mental health resources and broadband connectivity.
16-Bed Secure Residential Facility: Despite a close vote in the House Health Care Committee recommending an eight-bed facility, the House Corrections and Institutions Committee allocated $11.6 million for construction of a 16-bed secure recovery residence to replace the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence. The bill also requires the Department of Mental Health to do a bed needs assessment for all levels of care in the mental health system and an analysis of opportunities from federal funding under ARPA. A huge thank you to our Emergency Department Directors who sent a letter of support for the 16-bed facility—your advocacy was very important.
Regulatory Flexibilities: The House and Senate passed S.117, which extends many of the current COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities until the end of March 2022. For a summary of regulatory flexibilities, go here. One last-minute change was to strip out a provision allowing for the sharing of immunization data between the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Information Technology Leaders in an amendment by Rep. Vicki Strong. The bill goes to the governor’s desk just in time for his signature, ensuring that the current end-of-March deadline does not run out.
Prohibition of Firearms in Hospitals: The Senate passed S.30, which prohibits firearms from hospital buildings and would have hospitals post signs at all public entrances. It now heads to the House. Again, a huge thank you to health care providers for your stories and testimony supporting this important legislation.
Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact: The Senate should advance S.48, the Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact.
COVID Relief Bill: The Senate will pass H.315, the COVID Relief Bill providing critical assistance to Vermonters and businesses, including:
- $1.4 million to the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) to establish a partnership program with skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to fund 40 to 45 seats in the Practical Nurse Program to upskill existing staff to achieve certification as a practical nurse.
- $300,000 for grants to peer-led organizations for emergency outreach services to address COVID-19-related needs.
- $240,000 for the 12 recovery centers in the Vermont Recovery Center Network.
- $4 million to the designated mental health agencies (DAs) and specialized services agencies (SSAs) for facility costs and upgrades.
- $850,000 to the DAs and SSAs for case management services.
- $150,000 for training and wellness supports for frontline mental health care workers.
- $200,000 to the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) to address health care disparities by enhancing data collection.
The bill also authorizes the Joint Fiscal Office to engage a consultant to assist on the policy and fiscal implications related to the renewals of the Global Commitment Waiver and All Payer Model agreement with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.