Vermont High School Students Invited to Share Their Views on the 'State of the Union'
In January, the president will give his State of the Union speech to Congress, to outline his priorities for the coming year. And for the ninth year, I am inviting Vermont high school students to submit short essays describing what they think are the most pressing issues facing our country, and what they would do to solve those issues. I am always very impressed with the thoughtful essays that are submitted on a variety of topics and from different viewpoints. I will invite the twenty finalists to join me for a lively roundtable discussion at the Vermont Statehouse, and will enter their essays into the Congressional Record – the official archive of Congress. The deadline to submit an essay is January 9, 2019. I hope you consider writing an essay!
Details: State of the Union Essay Contest
An Essential Transportation Service
Providing reliable and affordable public transportation in rural areas like Vermont can be a real challenge. But it is critically important for the many low-income and working Vermonters who rely on public transportation to get to work, visit the doctor, drop the kids at childcare, go grocery shopping and much more. In spite of the many challenges – including a chronic lack of funding – Vermont’s public transportation agencies provide 5 million trips per year through regular scheduled bus service and on-demand rides for elderly or disabled Vermonters. That is pretty impressive, although clearly, we must do more to provide more transportation options here in Vermont and across the nation by significantly increasing investment in our transit systems.
Helping Keep Vermonters Warm
As the weather gets colder and heating costs go up, some Vermonters will have a hard time keeping warm this winter. If you or someone you know is struggling to pay to heat their homes, help may be available. Honestly, it is unconscionable that in the wealthiest country on earth, some Vermonters – including seniors and families with young children – have to choose between keeping their homes warm or putting food on the table. That’s why I am fighting in Washington to increase funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) rather than cut it like the president and his allies in Congress have proposed.
'Vermont Day' at the Kennedy Institute in Boston
I am delighted that hundreds of Vermont students have participated in trips organized by my office to visit the Edward Kennedy Institute in Boston. The non-partisan Kennedy Institute offers innovative programming on the legislative process and how our government works. Students take on the role of a Senator, introducing and debating legislation in a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber. It is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to think about what issues are important to them, as well as how to be critical thinkers, work together and bring about positive change in our country. To learn more about “Vermont Days” at the Kennedy Institute, click on this short video or call my office for more information.
A Crisis in Child Care
Parents in Vermont and throughout our country are struggling to find high-quality and affordable day care, especially in rural areas. Without decent child care options, the very idea of economic opportunity is an illusion, as many parents cannot join the workforce or continue their education. And yet, fully three out of four parents in Vermont say they cannot find or cannot afford child care. It is long past time to join much of the rest of the world and provide universal access to high-quality and affordable child care. Taking care of children and providing options for parents must be one of our very top priorities as a nation. And to do that, we need a well-trained and well-paid child care workforce.
Helping Students Attend and Succeed at College
If you’re the first person in your family to attend college, it can be very difficult to navigate the process of choosing a college, applying for admission and figuring out how to pay for it. It can also be a challenge for many students once they get to college. That’s why the federal TRIO programs are so important, helping students in Vermont and throughout our country prepare for, and succeed at college. At a time when a college degree is more important than ever to secure a job in our changing economy, we must fight to make sure college is accessible to every student who desires to continue their studies, no matter their background.
Helping Older Vermonters Live at Home
The Support and Services at Home (SASH) program is an innovative effort that brings health care services to Vermont seniors, right where they live. SASH offers blood pressure clinics, exercise and nutrition classes, falls prevention work and much, much more. This not only helps seniors stay healthy, but it also enables them to live independently in their homes. SASH even saves the healthcare system money by focusing on prevention. SASH makes so much sense to me, but don’t just take my word for it. One Vermonter recently shared with my office: “They make you feel like you can still stay in your home rather than having to be in a nursing home when you still can do some things for yourself. I love it and I would recommend it for anybody.”
Our Students Demand Bold Action on Climate Change
Addressing global climate change will take millions of people -- particularly young people in Vermont and throughout the United States -- coming together and demanding bold action to move aggressively away from fossil fuels and toward energy efficiency and renewable energy. In recent weeks, I joined hundreds of students at UVM's Youth Climate Rally. If we mobilize our students, they can help create the change we need to reverse the effects of climate change.
Keeping Vermonters Warm This Winter
As we approach winter, many Vermonters are wondering how they will keep their homes warm. While federally funded fuel assistance is critically important, there simply isn’t enough help for everyone who needs it. That’s why the United Way of Lamoille County’s Firewood Project is so inspiring. The Firewood Project brings together community volunteers to cut, split and deliver free fire wood to those who need it most. This is an innovative way to stretch limited fuel assistance dollars, and to make sure Vermonters can heat their homes throughout the winter months.
File Your FAFSA
Are you a high school senior thinking about going to college, but are worried about the cost? As costs continue to skyrocket, it is more important than ever to know what help is available to pay for college. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid – commonly known as the FAFSA – is the key to securing financial aid. Filling out the FAFSA can open doors to federal, state and college-specific financial aid. The FAFSA application season begins October 1! If you have questions or need help completing the FAFSA, contact the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation at www.vsac.org.
Make Public Colleges and Universities Tuition Free
It is insane, unfair and economically counter-productive that hundreds of thousands of bright young students leave college each year with a mountain of debt that will burden them for decades. My office recently spoke with some Vermont college students, who explained how student debt is already limiting their choices. It is time to make public colleges and universities tuition free, to unleash the full potential of our youth and to prepare them for jobs in the highly competitive global economy.
Our Dairy Farmers Deserve a Fair Price
Vermont dairy farmers have been struggling for years due to low milk prices. It is no wonder that 321 Vermont farms have been lost in the past 9 years, as the price farmers get for their milk today is virtually the same as it was in 1979. Meanwhile, President Trump’s erratic trade policies are further depressing milk prices at a time when farmers can least afford another price shock. The newly revised Milk Margin Protection program – which acts like insurance against low milk prices – has been an invaluable life-line for many farmers. However, farmers need a long-term solution to ensure fair prices for their quality products, and to my mind, that has to include managing the over-supply of milk.
Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Lifts Local Businesses
The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail – which is a project of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers in partnership with the State of Vermont – not only offers some wonderful year-round recreational opportunities for Vermonters and visitors alike, but it is also helping create jobs in rural areas of the state. So far, about one-third of the extraordinarily beautiful trail is complete, and area businesses already say they have seen a positive impact on their bottom lines. I am delighted I could secure federal funds to get this project moving and I look forward to the trail’s completion, which will eventually run for 93 miles from Swanton to St. Johnsbury.
The War on Poverty Is Not Over
The Trump administration recently said the War on Poverty is “largely over and a success.” Honestly, I do not know what world they are living in. More than 40 million Americans live below the poverty line. In Vermont, almost 27 percent of the population qualifies for food assistance and 14 percent of Vermont children lack reliable access to enough food. These are our neighbors who, without that assistance, might otherwise go hungry. And now, falsely claiming the war on poverty is over, Trump wants to cut nutrition assistance for struggling families and impose punitive work requirements. Instead, we must redouble our efforts to fight poverty. But let’s not further penalize people – especially kids – for being poor.
Upward Bound: Helping Our Students Get to College
TRIO programs like Upward Bound do enormously important work preparing young people for college. I come from a family that did not have a lot of money, and neither of my parents attended college. So I know from firsthand experience the challenges students can face when they are the first person in their family to get a post-secondary education. It can be difficult to figure out how to navigate all the forms, choose a school, and figure out how to pay for it. TRIO does an extraordinary job reaching out to young people, keeping them focused and giving them the confidence, skills and support they need to succeed.
'I Urge the Hospital to Really Listen to the Nurses'
As the UVM Medical Center nurses and hospital administrators return to the negotiating table in the coming days, I urge the hospital to really listen to the nurses. Asking for pay equity with nurses in Plattsburgh, New York – where the cost of living is much lower than in Burlington, Vermont -- is actually not at all “unrealistic.” In fact, it’s quite fair, especially for a hospital that made nearly $90 million in profits last year.
Meals for Young Vermonters
When school let out for the summer, nearly 40,000 children from low-income Vermont households lost access to the school breakfasts, lunches, and afterschool snacks they receive during the school year. That means it can be a real struggle for some families to provide kids with the nutrition they need during the summer. Hunger Free Vermont and school districts around the state do a great job providing free summer meals at roughly 300 sites all across Vermont
'There Is Nothing You Cannot Do'
I shared this video message recently with roughly 600 students from Vermont, New York and New Hampshire at the 2018 Upward Bound Jamboree hosted by Northern Vermont University – Lyndon. There are few things I enjoy more than meeting young people who – in spite of what are sometimes very significant challenges and barriers – are doing their very best to get an education and further their prospects in life. I know how big a deal it is to be the first person in your family to go to college. The whole college experience, from application to graduation, can be very intimidating. That’s why TRIO programs like Upward Bound are so critically important. Please remember, just because your family may not have a lot of money or your parents did not attend college, it doesn’t mean you are not as smart as other kids, or have any less potential. Please believe me when I say: There is nothing you cannot do and there is nothing you cannot achieve.
Fighting for Our Nurses
Nurses are the backbone of any hospital and yet, we have a significant nursing crisis at the UVM Medical Center. There are more than 170 vacancies for nurses and other health care professionals represented by the nurses' union. Meanwhile, the hospital employs hundreds of expensive "travel nurses" over the course of the year just to keep the hospital running. The reason the Medical Center has trouble attracting and retaining nurses is not complicated; according to research done by the nurses' union, Vermont ranks 47th in the nation in terms of nurse wages adjusted for the cost of living. The best way to avoid a disruptive strike that nobody wants is to pay nurses fair and competitive wages.
The UVM Medical Center must pay competitive wages for the vitally important work nurses do. If nurses don't earn enough to live in dignity and raise a family here in Vermont, we will continue to lose them to other states that pay better. I find it hard to believe that the hospital has enough money to pay nearly $11 million to 15 administrators - including more than $2 million to its CEO - but doesn't have enough money to pay nurses the same wages as nurses earn just across the lake in Plattsburgh, where the cost of living is much lower.
Transforming Our Energy System
More than 300 Vermonters joined me at my Energy Resource Fair and Town Meeting in Randolph Center in May. Our job is to think big. If we are serious about addressing the global challenge of climate change, it is going to take millions of people coming together and demanding bold policies to transform our energy system. It is going to take people organizing at the grassroots level and taking action in their communities. And it is going to take people adopting these technologies themselves, in their homes and businesses.
AmeriCorps in Vermont
AmeriCorps members have an enormous impact on the lives of Vermonters through the excellent programs they support, including serving at-risk youth, promoting affordable housing, protecting the environment and more. I am pleased that Vermont will receive $3 million in federal funds to help a new group of AmeriCorps members continue their important work. Five Vermont projects are receiving grants from the latest round of federal AmeriCorps funding.
Preparing Our Students for a Changing Economy
It is critically important that our youth understand what kind of education or training they need for the jobs that are available in our changing economy. I have held several town meetings with our students in Vermont in recent months to make sure they are aware of the job training opportunities that exist. We need to involve young people in these discussions so they can make informed decisions about their futures.
Fighting For Our Veterans
I held a veterans town meeting in Norwich in mid-May because now, more than ever, veterans deserve to know what’s going on in Washington. I also want to make sure all veterans and their families know what services and benefits they are entitled to. As a longtime member and former chair of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I am honored to be able to work on behalf of Vermont’s 45,000 veterans and their families who have done so much in service to our country.
Options After High School
In late April, I spoke with students from Spaulding High School, Central Vermont Career Center and Randolph Technical Career Center about job options after high school. It is critically important that our youth understand what kind of education or training they need for the jobs that are available in our changing economy. I was joined by three growing Vermont companies that not only have job openings, but also provide some type of job training assistance. We need to involve young people in discussions like this so they can make informed decisions about their futures.
Speaking With Vermont Seniors
More than 450 Vermonters joined me at three town meetings in mid-April in Montpelier, Newport and St. Albans to talk about issues facing older Vermonters. What I heard was that Vermont seniors are concerned about efforts in Washington to undermine Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the VA health care system. They are concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs and dental care. They are concerned that their kids and grandkids can’t go to college without being saddled with unsustainable debt. At a time when the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider and wider, we should expand programs that help support seniors, not cut them. I will do everything I can to protect the programs that help seniors stay healthy and secure and to ensure every American can retire with dignity and respect.
Meals on Wheels
In celebration of March for Meals month, many members of my staff joined Meals on Wheels volunteers across the state to deliver nutritious meals to older Vermonters. Last year alone, Meals on Wheels served more than 1 million meals in Vermont, helping thousands of older Vermonters to stay healthy and live independently in their own homes. Thank you to all the Vermonters who work hard each day to make the Meals on Wheels program possible.
‘Vermont Day’ at the Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate
I’m pleased more than 130 Vermont high school students traveled to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate in Boston in late March. My office organized this trip to give Vermont students an exciting new way to learn about democracy, civic discourse and the legislative process. As I told the students, democracy -- unlike a basketball game or a football game -- is not a spectator sport. It is not something where you watch somebody else do it. Democracy means that you do it. Your job is to determine what you think are the important issues and how you bring about positive change in this country.
Seven Vermont Schools Participated in Sanders’ Student Choral Concert
This annual event serves as a reminder of how important art and music are for our children’s education. Funding for the arts is always needed. As a member of the Senate education committee, I will continue to fight for the invaluable educational and cultural opportunities created by arts education. This event is one way to celebrate the achievements of our wonderful Vermont student choruses and to support arts education. I am pleased more than 200 students from Bellows Free Academy Fairfax, Essex High School, South Burlington High School, Barre City Middle School, Spaulding High School, St. Michael’s College and Stowe Elementary School were able to participate.
Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
In Vermont, 30 percent of our bridges are obsolete or structurally deficient. We need $700 million a year just to get our roads to a state of good repair. Our community drinking water systems need $510 million over the next 20 years. Vermont’s mostly rural schools have $326 million in capital needs. These are just some of the reasons why I helped write a plan to fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world and yet, from Vermont to California, people see roads and bridges, water and wastewater plants, and electric grids that are old and falling apart. We must do better.
Lessons From Germany
I am delighted German Ambassador Peter Wittig joined me in Vermont in February. We had a series of very productive meetings with the governor, state legislators, career and technical educators and Vermont businesses to see what we can learn from Germany’s highly acclaimed apprenticeship and workforce development programs. Ambassador Wittig also joined me Friday evening for a town meeting in Burlington that was attended by more than 500 Vermonters. We had a very lively discussion about current events in Germany and Europe, and how Germany approaches issues like higher education, health care, workers rights, taxation, climate change and more.
State of the Union Essay Contest Winners
I held an excellent roundtable discussion at the Statehouse with the finalists of my annual State of the Union essay contest, which gives Vermont high school students a chance to articulate what issues they would prioritize if they were president. Once again, students wrote and spoke eloquently about some of most pressing issues facing Vermont and the United States. I was so impressed by the lively discussion we had with the students. I would like to congratulate Marjorie Parker, a sophomore at Woodstock Union High School, for being selected by our panel of judges as the winner of my annual State of the Union Essay contest. I also want to congratulate all 585 students from across Vermont who submitted essays this year.
Springfield High School College and Career Fair
I was pleased to host a college and career fair at Springfield High School to help Vermont students plan their future after high school graduation. We had a good discussion about how students could most effectively apply for college and secure financial aid. We also talked about how students could tap into job-training programs that lead to good-paying jobs in Vermont. Fifty years ago, if you got a high school degree, odds were that you could get a decent paying job and make it into the middle class. But that has changed. While not all middle-class jobs in today’s economy require post-secondary education, an increasing number do. By 2020, two-thirds of all jobs in Vermont will require some education beyond high school.
Caring for Our Children
I wanted to come to the Head Start program here in Brattleboro to see the great work you are doing. As a nation, it is really disgraceful how we treat our children. What you guys are doing here is an oasis, providing full-day, quality day care and early childhood education. Clearly, we need a revolution in how we provide childcare.
‘A Very Noble Sentiment’
All of us up here, and everyone in this room, are extremely proud of the exceptional young Vermonters who we nominated to represent our state at the service academies and to serve our nation. You should all be proud of your years of hard work. We live in a cynical age and we live at a time when public service is often demeaned. But I believe that public service is, perhaps, the highest calling that we can achieve. Because what each and every one of you are saying is you are going beyond trying to make as much money as you can. You are going beyond trying to just improve your own life. You see your lives as something more than that -- and that is a very noble sentiment and I thank you very much for that.
Keeping Vermonters Warm This Winter
Frigid weather has hit Vermont hard this winter and some Vermonters are already maxing out their fuel assistance. If you or someone you know is struggling to pay for heat, help may be available. We have got to make sure that not one Vermonter goes cold this winter or has to make the unacceptable choice between heating their homes and feeding their families. Please call my Burlington office to learn more about programs that may be able to help: (800)-339-9834 (toll-free) or (802) 862-0697.
Sharing Holiday Cheer With Vermont Seniors
I am very pleased to have organized six senior holiday meals throughout Vermont in December. Over the years, we have built this wonderful tradition that helps strengthen the bonds of our community during the holiday season. Nearly 1,000 Vermonters joined us this year. Each meal featured local middle school or high school choirs, delicious food and lots of good cheer.
Talking With Students
It’s important that our students understand their job and college options as they prepare to graduate high school. That’s why I held an informal discussion with students at Peoples Academy in Morrisville in early December. What I heard is that we are not getting the kind of information out to the young people that we should. We must give our students the tools they need so they can make the best choices about colleges or the careers that they want to pursue.
Student Town Meeting on Opioids
I recently went to Burlington High School to talk to the student body about the opioid crisis that claimed the lives of 60,000 Americans last year, including 112 Vermonters. I wanted to hear from them because -- on this issue of opioid and heroin addiction and on the question of why so many young people are turning to drugs -- I believe our nation’s young people might know more than the experts. What I heard and learned from these high school students was truly insightful.
Vermont College Fairs
When you grow up in a family where Mom and Dad didn't go to college, sometimes the very idea of college is a dream that you never really imagine you can fulfill. Our job now is to figure out how to help our students find the financial aid that is out there, and figure out what schools are good for them. That's why I held college fairs at Lyndon State College and Castleton University earlier this month.
College for All
In the richest country on Earth, every student who has the ability and desire should be able to get a college degree without taking on a mountain of debt. Earlier this fall, I held a town meeting in Castleton to discuss my College for All legislation. We heard Vermonters share their experiences of struggling to afford higher education. I want to hear from you, as well. Together, we will ensure people in Vermont and throughout the United States can obtain the education they deserve, regardless of their family’s income.
Transforming Our Energy System
I visited the Photovoltaic Test Center in Williston, which is gathering data on the performance of different solar technologies in Vermont’s wet and cold climate. This project is a small, but important part of the effort to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energies. I am especially proud that three Vermont companies are testing innovative solar technologies at the center.
Helping Feed Vermonters
More than one in 10 Vermonters have trouble affording food for themselves and their families. Organizations like the Intervale Center, Vermont Foodbank and Salvation Farms are doing a terrific job getting locally grown food from farms to low-income Vermonters. Each year, Vermont farmers donate more than 600,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to help feed Vermonters in need.
Integrating Mental and Behavioral Health Care
To make real progress on the state of health care in America, we have to fully integrate mental and behavioral health care with physical health care. For too long, our broken health care system treats them as separate issues. I’m proud Vermont has received a significant federal grant to improve mental health services for Vermont families, including those who have experienced childhood trauma and generations of stress and poverty. Our federally funded Community Health Centers and Community Mental Health Centers are doing extraordinary work every day, and this federal grant will help take that work to the next level.
Read more here.
Labor Day in Vermont
"We have to come together and demand a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent," Bernie said on Labor Day to 500 people during a rally in White River Junction. Later, in Middlebury, he spoke with nearly 1,000 more Vermonters about the history of Labor Day, the need to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and the fight to make sure women get equal pay for equal work.
Coping with Disasters
Six years ago, after Tropical Storm Irene caused devastation across Vermont, I went to the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge my colleagues to pass much-needed federal disaster assistance. At the time, I said, ‘This natural disaster reminds us that we are all Americans, and that when any one community is in trouble, we pull together as Americans. That’s what being a nation is all about.’ Today, at a time when many in Washington seek to divide us with heated political rhetoric, we must similarly pull together and rally for those who had their lives upended by historic flooding in Houston. We are strongest when we stand together.
Supporting Community Health Centers
More than 171,000 Vermonters now obtain their health care from community health centers, which not only provide high-quality and affordable care where it’s needed and when it’s needed, they do it in a very cost-effective way. I am glad to announce that 11 federally qualified health centers in Vermont will receive more than $800,000 in additional federal funding.
Telephone Town Hall
Sen. Bernie Sanders held a telephone town hall with more than 15,000 Vermonters in mid-July. Bernie held the statewide call to give an update on crucial issues facing Vermont and the United States, including the disastrous Republican plan to take health care away from 22 million Americans. He also touched on President Donald Trump’s budget, which would give huge tax breaks to billionaires, while making massive cuts to education, environmental protection and the needs of children and seniors. The telephone town hall provided an opportunity for Vermonters to ask Bernie questions about the proposed legislation, budget and other issues they are concerned about.
Listen to Bernie’s telephone town hall here.
Dairy in Vermont: 'A Difficult Situation'
Vermont now has less than 820 dairy farms – down from more than 6,000 farms in 1965. Longtime dairy farmer Bill Rowell of Sheldon, Vermont, explains: “The issue that we have, consistently, year after year, is the price of milk. And the volatility that exists in the price of milk is disheartening when you can work an entire year and borrow money to produce milk. It just doesn’t make sense.” Rowell is hoping for a solution. “All we are asking for is that we put our heads together ... and come up with a program that will benefit the farmer.” As Rowell notes, when Vermont farms struggle, so does Vermont’s rural economy.