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Governor, congressional delegation seek disaster relief

WASHINGTON — Gov. Jim Douglas and Vermont’s three-member congressional delegation asked Pres. George W. Bush to declare Vermont a disaster area in the wake of last week’s Nor’easter.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-VT, joined Douglas Wednesday in asking Bush to make the declaration, which would make the state for federal disaster relief.

The delegation timed the letter to buttress Douglas’ request to the president for a disaster declaration.

“Last week, a Nor'easter moved through the state, bringing fierce winds and heavy precipitation. Trees, hundreds of years old, fell on power-lines, homes, and businesses. There has been major flooding in the southern portion of the state, and large sections of southern Vermont counties remained without power for days. Well over 15,000 power outages were reported,” the delegation told Bush.

In his letter, Douglas said the current estimated damage from the Nor’Easter is more than $2 million—far exceeding the $1 million threshold required to trigger federal assistance—and a declaration from the president would expedite delivery of federal recovery funds.

“On April 17, 2007 I requested a joint federal, state and local survey of the damaged areas,” the governor wrote in his letter. “Preliminary assessments by state and local officials indicated the most severe impacts were to town and state roads that were either covered with debris from falling trees or washed our by flash floods. I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments and supplementary federal assistance is necessary.”

Douglas cited the many challenges posed by the storm, including extended power outages and the need for temporary shelters in many communities, as examples of why Vermont qualifies for federal assistance in the counties most severely damaged by the storm. Douglas also asked that federal hazard mitigation grants be available on a statewide basis. Counties most severely impacted by the Nor’easter include Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Orange, Rutland, Windham, and Windsor.

“In addition, I anticipate the need for grant assistance…for the removal of debris that poses an immediate threat to lives, public health and safety,” Douglas wrote.

This request for federal assistance follows Douglas’ April 17 emergency declaration for all counties of Vermont. The governor’s declaration expedited the arrival of utility crews from other states and Canadian provinces to assist with restoring power and formed the basis for an application for federal disaster relief funding.

National expert to speak at Medicare Part D town meeting

BARRE — The Vermont Alliance for Retired Americans (VT-ARA) will hold a statewide town meeting Saturday to discuss problems that surround the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.

The meeting will take place at the Old Labor Hall, 46 Granite St. in Barre, Meeting registration begins at 9:30 a.m. and the meeting at 10 a.m.

The keynote speaker for the meeting will be Sue Ward of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) in Washington.

Ward, NCPSSM’s grassroots director and Maryland’s former commissioner on aging, will presentatation — “Medicare D: What’s Wrong & How to Fix It!” — will be followed by an overview of the Medicare D political landscape at the national level.

The town meeting aims to bring together seniors from around Vermont, as well as community advocates and others, who are concerned about the escalating high cost of prescription drugs for seniors. At the meeting, participants will discuss the launching of a grassroots educational campaign aimed at seniors, community opinion makers, and political leaders in conjunction with other community groups.

“The recent passage of HR 4 mandating negotiated drug pricing appears to be a positive step in improving Medicare D,” said Chet Briggs, VT-ARA’s president. “Unfortunately, with its prohibition of a formulary, it’s toothless. HR4 leaves virtually all of Medicare D’s problems undressed. It’s window dressing. ARA is going to mobilize Vermonters to eliminate those remaining problems.”

Some of the Medicare D problems and their solutions that will be covered at the town meeting include the following:

• The ever-increasing high cost of prescription drugs under the program, a planned subsidy of pharmaceutical manufacturers at the expense of seniors and all taxpayers;
• The daunting maze of 50+ “competing” pharmacy benefit plans seniors and their advocates are confronted with each year from which they must choose from, each plan with a different formulary and cost, and which can be changed without notice by the insurers;
• The infamous drug benefit “doughnut hole” that faces all those with moderate retirement incomes and high drug costs; and,
• The draconian penalties facing those who do not sign up on time or drop premium payments when they fall into the doughnut hole.

Following the initial speakers, participants can take part in several workshops. One will present the Families USA film “The Problems with the Medicare Drug Program – and How to Fix Them” hosted by Walter Cronkite.

Another will cover the talking points on specific problems with Medicare D, plus reviewing the tools and resources available to concerned citizens locally, in Vermont and nationally, especially the Internet.

A hot meal luncheon including dessert and coffee, will be served. After lunch, participants will take part in networking discussions by region to plan outreach activities in their communities.

“This town meeting is a first step in a statewide grassroots educational campaign whose goal is to apply pressure on our congressional delegation to truly reform Medicare D,” said Briggs.

Attendees will receive a packet of informational materials and resources for community action including a copy of the Cronkite film.

Cost for the day, including lunch and materials is $8.

For information, contact Chet Briggs at 476-8777 or e-mail briggslane@charter.net.

Posted April 26, 2007

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