From Needles to Narcan

October 19, 2017

The spread of drugs like heroin and fentanyl throughout Vermont is an ongoing issue without an obvious solution. But the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone, or Narcan, has been proven to save lives.

Since 2013, the Vermont Department of Health has distributed free naloxone to a variety of drug treatment facilities around the state. A recent VTDigger analysis found that the bulk of that supply went to syringe exchanges—nonprofit programs originally established to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Syringe exchanges are uniquely positioned to serve populations that are prone to accidental overdose. But they also face unique challenges.

On this week's podcast, Morgan True explains the role these small programs are playing in a broad crisis. Plus, Erin Mansfield describes what Health Department data does—and doesn't—tell us about this story.


A “New Ruralism” for Vermont

October 12, 2017

Jon Margolis has written columns for VTDigger since 2010. This week, his piece on a national economic survey showing the relative strength of metropolitan areas compared to rural ones raised broad questions about the future of Vermont's economy.

"Metropolitan areas grow organically," Margolis says. Vermont is unlikely to build new ones from scratch. So how can a predominantly rural state chart a long-term path?

On this week's podcast, Margolis discusses some suggestions he's heard from economists, state officials and VTDigger readers about the state's economic outlook.


Clocking the Congressional Calendar

October 5, 2017

Last Saturday marked the end of the federal fiscal year. Leading up to September 30, members of Congress worked to meet deadlines on multiple authorizations that fund government programs across the country.

In Vermont, decisions on the children's health insurance program and the Federal Aviation Administration carry major impacts on state services. Meanwhile, debates about health care and tax reform indicate the Republican-led Congress's ongoing priorities.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Elizabeth Hewitt, who has been reporting from Capitol Hill, describes what Congress did—and didn't—get done before their deadline.


Pollution Politics on Lake Champlain

September 28, 2017

Dozens of beaches up and down Lake Champlain were on high alert this week due to toxic algae blooms. In Franklin County, similar cyanobacteria has kept Lake Carmi closed for over four weeks.

Both sites have seen this problem before. Excess phosphorous from farms, roads and parking lots has caused algae blooms in waters across Vermont for decades. While multiple governors have worked to address the pollution, including passing legislation to strengthen water quality regulations, no permanent solution has been enacted.

Decades of phosphorous buildup stored deep under the lake may make long-term progress difficult to achieve. On this week's podcast, Mike Polhamus and Mark Johnson talk about why that makes clean water such a difficult issue for Vermont politicans to address.


A Hard Bargain in Burlington Schools

September 21, 2017

This week, a teacher strike that kept thousands of Burlington students out of school for four days came to an end. Both the teachers union and the school board have expressed relief that they were able to arrive at an agreement.

VTDigger's Morgan True discusses the consequences of the strike, and recaps how negotiations finally led to a deal. Plus, two lawmakers worry that this dispute could be a sign of what’s to come in school districts across the state. That's why they plan to reintroduce legislation they think will curb future conflicts.


Dispelling the Demons of Addiction

September 14, 2017

When Bess O’Brien organized a writing workshop in 2014 for people recovering from addiction, she was mainly hoping to continue gathering stories from the St. Albans community she spotlighted in her 2013 documentary film, The Hungry Heart. But over the past three years, she and writer Gary Miller have expanded into leading writing groups across the state that have helped guide dozens of Vermonters through the challenging process of recovery.

At each Writers for Recovery workshop, participants respond to writing prompts and share their work. “We have people in these workshops who write down and read aloud things that they’ve never told their therapist,” Miller says. Each group holds a public reading event at the conclusion of their workshops, and the project has published two volumes of participants’ work.

Starting next week, VTDigger will present a new podcast from Writers for Recovery. In each episode, listeners will hear workshop participants read their own work, in their own voices. O’Brien and Miller selected the pieces for the series, and Erica Heilman, from Rumble Strip Vermont, produced the recordings.

On this week’s Deeper Dig, Bess O’Brien and Gary Miller talk about how they’ve seen writing change participants’ lives. Plus, we’ll share a special sneak preview of the first Writers for Recovery podcast.


Why the Tax Man Cometh

September 7, 2017

Earlier this week, VTDigger reported that Vermont's tax department was sending about 20,000 letters to Vermonters notifying them that they may owe use tax, an often-ignored tax on some out-of-state or online purchases.

Kaj Samsom, Vermont's tax commissioner, said that fewer than a quarter of residents pay the use tax they legally owe the state. That's why his department is setting out to "change the culture" around the tax.

Readers quickly responded with a range of questions: When is this tax supposed to apply? How did the department choose who would receive these notices? What personal data are vendors obligated to share with the state under new tax law? In this week's podcast, Kaj Samsom responds.


Teflon Town

August 31, 2017

This week, VTDigger and the Bennington Banner published a five part series called Teflon Town, examining the toxic legacy of a North Bennington manufacturer that state officials have blamed for contaminating the surrounding area with dangerous levels of the chemical PFOA.

Two of VTDigger's reporters have been working on this story for over a year. On this week's podcast, they talk about how they put it together.

First, reporter Jim Therrien, whose work appears in both VTDigger and the Banner, discusses using the newspaper's archives to research the history of the once-popular ChemFab company. Then, VTDigger's environmental reporter Mike Polhamus delves into the cache of public records that revealed a lack of state regulatory oversight throughout the decades ChemFab was polluting. Plus, North Bennington residents describe how living with PFOA has affected their lives, families, and properties.


The Week in EB-5

August 24, 2017

Since 2014, VTDigger has investigated allegations of fraud at Jay Peak Resort and related developments in the Northeast Kingdom. This week, we reported on two new steps towards the resolution of this case.

On Monday, Governor Phil Scott announced that US Citizenship and Immigration Services intended to shut down Vermont’s EB-5 regional center, which was charged with overseeing the developments. On Tuesday, we found out that Ariel Quiros had agreed to drop his challenge to the fraud allegations and negotiate a partial settlement with the SEC.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway joins Mike Smith on WDEV Radio’s Open Mike to talk about the regional center's closure, Quiros' settlement, and another recent interview that goes behind the scenes of her years-long investigation.


The Rescission Makers

August 17, 2017

For the past several fiscal years, Vermont has seen a series of revenue downgrades: Economists project a shortfall, and the governor proposes mid-year budget cuts to make up for it. For the current fiscal year, lawmakers approved $12.6 million in rescissions to counter a $28.8 million revenue downgrade projected in July.

On this week's podcast, reporter Elizabeth Hewitt talks about how the Scott administration identified ways to resolve this year's budget gap. Plus, editor Anne Galloway discusses why these continuing budget gaps point to broader structural issues in the state's economy.