VPIRG's Response

Check out Executive Director, Paul Burn’s latest message to members and supporters around the COVID-19 pandemic:

As we move forward in these challenging and uncertain times, we are committed to upholding our mission of promoting and protecting the health of Vermont’s people, environment and locally-based economy. 

So what does that mean? Quite simply, our priorities have shifted. 

The current pandemic is not a brief interruption – we cannot just press pause and wait for business as usual to resume. New and pressing issues are arising on a national, state, and community level that must be addressed promptly with fair, fact-based policy.  

With a network of 50,000+ members and supporters across the state of Vermont, and a long history of working on a broad range of program areas, including consumer protection, elections and government reform, economic justice, and health care, our organization is well positioned to respond to the new challenges posed by COVID-19.  

To best support Vermonters, we will be shifting our focus to several key initiatives, including 

  • Modernizing open-meeting laws. In the current crisis, it is imperative that governing bodies meet remotely for all participants’ safety. We’re supporting smart policies to ensure that important work can continue, while increasing accessibility, accountability, and transparency for the public.
  • Promoting our local economy. To put people back to work and make Vermont more resilient, we need to prioritize our local energy and food systems during and after this crisis.
  • Ensuring safe and timely elections. Already, we have seen elections postponed due to COVID-19. But we don’t have to give up our democracy. We can enact measures that allow elections to occur in a timely, transparent, secure, and accessible manner, without sacrificing the health and wellbeing of voters, election workers, and candidates. During this crisis, we support universal vote-by-mail, early ballot collection stations, allowing more time for ballots to be processed, waiving requirements for candidates to gather petition signatures in order to get on the ballot, and extending voting hours on Election Day.
  • Supporting virtual communication. It is imperative that all Vermonters have the ability to telecommute and/or engage in remote learning, regardless of their household income or where in the state they live. We will continue to work to address Vermont’s connectivity issues by supporting reliable, affordable broadband.
  • Combating consumer abuses. Since VPIRG was founded, we’ve fought to put people ahead of profits. Especially in times of scarcity and economic uncertainty, it’s crucial that Vermonters are protected from price gouging, exploitative scams, and other consumer abuses. We intend to work with the Attorney General’s office to educate and inform our members on these issues and watch for violations.

As the current crisis evolves, we will be frequently reassessing our efforts to ensure that our work remains timely, relevant, and impactful. 

Finally, it is important to acknowledge that, eventually, this crisis will pass, and when it does, pressing problems like the climate crisis, plastic pollution, and the harmful impacts of big money in politics will still be with us. We are dedicated to continuing our work on these important issues as circumstances allow. We recognize that any silver linings will come at enormous cost to Vermonters’ health and economic well-being, and that is nothing less than a tragedy.

We are immensely grateful that the support of our large grassroots membership allows us to keep fighting the good fight in these trying times. You can give today at www.vpirg.org/donate

To stay up to date on our evolving work, we encourage you to sign up for our mailing list and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Public Health Resources
When it comes to COVID-19, facts and good policy are evolving rapidly, but what is clear is that in order to protect the public interest, we share a responsibility to take immediate and significant measures to slow the spread of the virus. 

We recommend that our members listen to public health officials and follow the guidance of experts as that information is made available.  For public health information and updates, we suggest the following sources:

Looking for translations of COVID-19 information? Visit www.newamericansinvermont.com for resources in Arabic, ASL, Dinka, French, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Vietnamese, and more.

VPIRG Webinar Series and Action Opportunities

In the wake of the COVID-19 panemic, we’ve been working hard to identify new ways to connect with our members, support our community, and provide opportunities for virtual action and engagement. We’re prioritizing actions that will make Vermonters more safe and secure at this difficult time – and we’ve found that action is the best antidote to anxiety in these uncertain times. 

With that in mind, we’ll be working to bring you a range of virtual education and action opportunities each week for the duration of this crisis.  

From live Zoom webinars to online advocacy opportunities to remote volunteer opportunities, we’re working to curate a schedule of offerings that align with VPIRG’s core values or promoting and protecting the health of Vermont’s people, environment, and locally based economy.  

You can check out what we’ve already done below, and be sure to join our email list to get a weekly schedule of offerings.

Wondering how COVID-19 is impacting elections, and how Vermont can respond to those challenges? Tune in to this conversation between Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos and VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns.

Learn more about how industry is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to undermine the EPA and state efforts to fight single-use product pollution—and what you can do about it—in this conversation with Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics.

Avoiding Price Gouging and Scams

Since VPIRG was founded, we’ve fought to put people ahead of profits. Especially in times of scarcity and economic uncertainty, it’s crucial that Vermonters are protected from price gouging and exploitative scams.

From the Vermont Attorney General’s Office:
Price gouging is when the price of essential goods or services is inflated during a market crisis. Price gouging is illegal in Vermont under the Consumer Protection Act. Remember that in Vermont businesses are protected by the Consumer Protection Act when they are in the role of consumer, such as buying hand sanitizer or bleach wipes for use at their business – not for resale. To report price gouging, please contact our Consumer Assistance Program at AGO.CAP@vermont.gov or 1-800-649-2424 with the following information:

  • The date of the offer or purchase in question;
  • The store name & location (or website name & web-address, if offer/purchase was online);
  • As much identifying information about the product or service as you can provide, including, potentially, the product or services’ brand name; model name/number or product-line; volume (3-pack, 16 oz., etc.); and any other information that would assist in identifying the specific product/service in question;
  • The dollar amount of the offer or purchase in question;
  • Any supporting documentation showing the questionable price offer/purchase amount, including photographs of the product/price on the shelf and any receipts.

Watch the video below or click here for more information about protecting yourself from price gouging related to COVID-19.

Price gouging isn’t the only threat to be on the lookout for ⁠— scammers are also taking advantage of people’s fear to steal their personal or financial data or exploit them in other ways.

The United States Attorney for the District of Vermont has shared some examples of scams linked to COVID-19 including:

  • Testing scams: Scammers are selling fake at-home test kits or going door-to-door performing fake tests for money.
  • Treatment scams: Scammers are offering to sell fake cures, vaccines, pills, and advice on unproven treatments for COVID-19.
  • Supply scams: Scammers are creating fake shops, websites, social media accounts, and email addresses claiming to sell medical supplies currently in high demand, such as surgical masks. When consumers attempt to purchase supplies through these channels, fraudsters pocket the money and never provide the promised supplies.
  • Provider scams: Scammers are contacting people by phone and email, pretending to be doctors and hospitals that have treated a friend or relative for COVID-19, and demanding payment for that treatment. Medical providers are also obtaining patient information for COVID-19 testing and then using that information to fraudulently bill for other tests and procedures.
  • Charity scams: Scammers are soliciting donations for individuals, groups, and areas affected by COVID-19.
  • Phishing scams: Scammers posing as national and global health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are sending phishing emails designed to trick recipients into downloading malware or providing personal identifying and financial information.
  • App scams: Scammers are creating and manipulating mobile apps designed to track the spread of COVID-19 to insert malware that will compromise users’ devices and personal information.
  • Investment scams: Scammers are offering online promotions on various platforms, including social media, claiming that the products or services of publicly traded companies can prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19, and that the stock of these companies will dramatically increase in value as a result. These promotions are often styled as “research reports,” make predictions of a specific “target price,” and relate to microcap stocks, or low-priced stocks issued by the smallest of companies with limited publicly available information.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office urges Vermonters to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
  • Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
  • Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
  • Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Should there be a medical breakthrough, you will not hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or an unsolicited sales pitch.
  • Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
  • Research the websites of charities soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website. (www.ftc.gov)
  • Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.
  • Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus. If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website. (www.sec.gov)
  • For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.CDC.gov) and World Health Organization (www.WHO.int) websites.

Watch the video below or click here for more information about avoiding Coronavirus phishing scams.

Remote Work and Learning

Community and Schooling Resources

In an effort to make working, schooling, and living life from our homes a bit easier during these times, public libraries are ramping up their digital resources.

In Burlington, the Fletcher Free Library  is posting daily programs and events via video for anyone to access, from science projects to music classes. Most libraries also offer digital e-books, audio books, and research tools on their websites.

The Vermont Energy Education Program has just rolled out Home-Learning program for grades K-12

Virtual Communication

It is imperative that all Vermonters have the ability to telecommute and/or engage in remote learning, regardless of their household income or where in the state they live. Efforts to support connectivity include:

  • The Vermont Public Service Department has prepared a map of public buildings in Vermont where WiFi with access to the internet is publicly available. These sites are accessible at all hours from a parked vehicle on the road or parking lot.  As a safety precaution, we discourage users from entering the premises or congregating outside.  These sites should be accessed from within a parked vehicle. Click here for more information.
  • The East Central Vermont Telecommunications District (ECFiber) is working with the supervisory unions and schools in the 22 member towns in which it has active service to get high-speed internet to students forced to stay home due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Until further notice, ValleyNet, the non-profit company that designs, builds and operates the fiber-to-the-home network for ECFiber, will install internet to any serviceable address at no cost to families whose school-age children are eligible for WIC or Reduced/Free Lunch programs at school. The internet service will also be provided at no cost through at least the end of April or until school reconvenes if longer. Click here for more information.

Transitioning to remote work or learning? Click here to see a few simple tips for better online meetings.

Supporting Our Local Economy
To put people back to work and make Vermont more resilient, we need to prioritize our local energy and food systems during and after this crisis.

Shop safely: The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association has created a constantly updated list of what retailers and grocers throughout the state are doing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. These services range from limited delivery, to curbside pickup and designated shopping hours for vulnerable populations.

Support local restaurants: While dining in is currently prohibited at Vermont restaurants, Seven Days has compiled Good To-Go Vermont, an online directory to help you find out what your favorite eateries all across the state are serving up via takeout, delivery or curbside pickup.

Resources for small businesses include:

  • Disaster assistance is available to businesses and non-profit organizations in all Vermont counties. For more information, call the Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster assistance customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or e-mail disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. For local SBA information, call 802-828-4422.
  • The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development has created a Business Impact Form, as well as a hotline so that businesses may call to report impacts and be directed to resources: (802) 461-5143. The hotline will be staffed Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
  • The Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) is providing various resources to help support small business during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Community Resources

Shop safely: The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association has created a constantly updated list of what retailers and grocers throughout the state are doing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. These services range from limited delivery, to curbside pickup and designated shopping hours for vulnerable populations.

Support local restaurants: While dining in is currently prohibited at Vermont restaurants, Seven Days has compiled Good To-Go Vermont, an online directory to help you find out what your favorite eateries all across the state are serving up via takeout, delivery or curbside pickup.

Looking for translations of COVID-19 information? Visit www.newamericansinvermont.com for resources in Arabic, ASL, Dinka, French, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Vietnamese, and more.