by Anne Galloway vtdigger.org A Senate panel has come up with a novel form of property tax relief: Mailing a check to taxpayers.Sen. Jane Kitchel, the chair of Senate Appropriations, says the payback proposal isnâ t a gimmick. Frustrated with the ever-rising school spending and little or no control over how the money is spent, she said the members of her committee wanted a sure way to shift half of all General Fund surplus money in refunds to taxpayers.The House Chamber of the Vermont Statehouse. Photo by Ceilidh Galloway-KaneIf surplus revenues are plowed into the Education Fund, she said, there is no guarantee that taxpayers will benefit because in the past schools have absorbed additional funding.â When the expectation is created that someone will see a financial benefit from our actions, how would anyone see it in the Education Fund transfer?’Kitchel asked.The Senateâ s chief budget-writer said under the plan if there is a surplus â we could ensure a direct benefit to the Vermont homeowner.âShould General Fund revenues increase (a promising, but not guaranteed prospect), 50 percent of the proceeds would go directly into taxpayers’pockets, instead of the Education Fund.The payback? Anywhere from $30 to $100 per homeowner per year. The total cost of the proposal wasnâ t available at press time. Only Vermont residents who claim a homestead exemption would be eligible.The House, in three separate pieces of legislation, sought to send half of any surplus monies to the Education Fund in order to correct the â rebasing’change that will go into effect in 2013.Lawmakers cut funding for the General Fund transfer to the Ed Fund by $27.5 million last year. Instead of transferring $309 million from the General Fund to the Ed Fund in fiscal year 2012, including inflationary increases, the transfer will be $282 million. The reduction will result in a roughly 3 cent property tax increase at the local level on average.Kitchel said in 2010, when the Douglas administration and the Legislature agreed to a Challenges for Change proposal which reduced spending in many areas of state government. Part of the plan was a $23 million reduction in school spending, with the savings to be realized in the General Fund transfer.That savings, however, didnâ t materialize. The Department of Education and the lawmakers worked with schools to identify specific targets based on school enrollments and other factors in 2010, but when the Shumlin administration came on board, the governor decided to allow schools to use $19 million in additional federal stimulus funds as bridge money for schools in 2011. The idea was that by 2012, schools would find those savings.Instead, school spending increased by 2 percent this year.To complicate matters further, the Grand List, as a result of soft real estate values, has dropped. That means the statewide property tax will likely go up 2 cents for every $100 worth of property value in 2013, and will jump 7 cents in 2014, if school spending remains at 2 percent, according to initial estimates from the Joint Fiscal Office.Total revenues for the Education Fund are projected to drop by about $10.7 million in 2014 to $1.363 billion; estimates for total spending go up to $1.437 billion in 2014. That leaves the fund with a $73.6 million gap if the state doesnâ t raise the statewide property tax rate in 2013 (by 2 cents) and 2014 (by 7 cents). The education â outlook’developed by the Joint Fiscal Office is a early projection, and subject to change, according to Mark Perrault, who developed the spreadsheet.House Ways and Means members wrestled with that information a few weeks ago. Rep. Bill Johnson, R/D-Canaan, said the increase was a result of the Legislature â kicking the can down the road.âSenate budget and finance leaders say theyâ ve been too busy to figure out how they will address the projected increase.Sen. Dick Sears, who serves on Appropriations, stands by the idea of ensuring that all property taxpayers who file a homestead exemption benefit from the surplus. â Those are two separate issues,’Sears said. â When you have a surplus and how you spend it is one issue. How we pay for education is another issue and it needs to be examined.âThe Legislature needs to re-evaluate the property tax system, in his view, but lawmakers, he said, havenâ t had the will to do so.He says he wants the refund program â to go on indefinitely.ââ If you want to use it to pay down your property taxes or go to McDonaldâ s, itâ s your money,’Sears said.The governor told reporters at his weekly press conference on Wednesday that he supports the Senateâ s surplus refund to property taxpayers.â I do believe the Senateâ s goal of sending hard-pressed taxpayers of Vermont more dollars so that we reduce property taxes on Vermonters, not second homeowners, not businesses but on hard-pressed Vermonters struggling to pay property taxes is a better solution than the House plan that scatters it across all property taxpayers, to some that donâ t need it ‘second homeowners, businesses.âHouse Speaker Shap Smith says he hasnâ t seen the proposal yet. April 19, 2012 vtdigger.org
Verizon Wireless,Two months after introducing 4G LTE service in Burlington and Northern Vermont, Verizon Wireless announced today it will launch 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) service in Bennington and Rutland, and 16 additional communities throughout Vermont, today, July 19.Verizon Wireless customers with compatible 4G LTE smartphones, modems, tablets and mobile hotspots will be able to wirelessly surf the Web, stream music and video, and download files up to 10 times faster than customers on 3G.Also on July 19, Verizon Wireless will introduce its 4G LTE network in 33 additional markets throughout the country, and expand in 32 others where it is currently available, to cover a total of 337 markets nationwide.On Thursday, the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network will officially launch in the following communities across the Green Mountain State:ArlingtonBenningtonBrandonCastletonClarendonEast DorsetKillingtonManchesterMendonPeruPittsfordPoultneyPownalRutlandShaftsburySunderlandWest RutlandWinhallThe Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network is already available in Burlington and more than 30 additional communities throughout Northern Vermont, as well as popular destinations including:Bromley Mountain ResortBurke Mountain ResortJay Peak ResortMagic Mountain Ski ResortMount Snow ResortOkemo Mountain ResortSmugglers’Notch ResortStowe Mountain ResortStratton Mountain Resort‘As of July 19, the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network will be available in more than 50 communities throughout Vermont,’said Christine Berberich, New England Regional President for Verizon Wireless. ‘Customers with compatible smartphones will certainly benefit from the exponential increases in data speeds, but residents with limited home broadband options may be the biggest beneficiaries of this expansion. With the launch of HomeFusion Broadband, Verizon Wireless now offers high-speed Internet service inside the home ‘connecting nearly two-dozen devices like laptops, e-readers and gaming consoles, to the ‘Net via our 4G LTE network.’HomeFusion BroadbandResidents in the newly expanded 4G LTE coverage area in Vermont will also have access to HomeFusion Broadband, a new in-home, high-speed Internet service for consumers who want residential broadband with reliable data connectivity. Verizon Wireless’high-speed 4G LTE network is delivered to a cylinder-shaped antenna, professionally installed outside a customer’s home, which then relays the signal to an in-home broadband router and allows the customer to connect up to four wired and more than 20 wireless (WiFi) devices in the household.4G LTE Coverage and SpeedAs of July 19, the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network is available to more than two-thirds of the U.S. population in 337 markets nationwide, including all six New England states. The network continues to rank as the nation’s largest 4G LTE network.In real-world, fully loaded network environments, Verizon Wireless’4G LTE customers should experience average data rates of 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2 to 5 Mbps on the uplink.When customers travel outside of a 4G LTE coverage area, 4G LTE devices automatically connect to Verizon Wireless’3G network, enabling customers to stay connected from coast to coast. Visit www.verizonwireless.com/lte(link is external) for more information about the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network and a list of current markets.Source: RUTLAND, Vt.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–7.18.2012
Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line of Vermont have just launched a redesigned, easy-to-use website, Vermont Law Help, that provides up-to-date guidance on health care access, health insurance issues, and other civil legal issues. One of the goals of Vermont Law Help is to inform and empower Vermonters to help themselves, find resources they can use, and know where legal services are available. Guided interviews show visitors how to complete common court documents, and form letters help them address specific problems. Vermont Law Help has resources for Vermonters with family problems involving separation, divorce and abuse; housing issues, including landlord and tenant problems, foreclosure, and discrimination; health care questions and issues related to health care reform, insurance, access to services, denials and appeals, billing, and complaints; money and debt problems including bankruptcy, credit and credit reports, public benefits, repossession, and taxes; and more, including information specifically for seniors and people with disabilities.Vermont Law Help has a powerful search function and simple navigation to help users find relevant information fast. Google Translate buttons quickly translate the website into seven languages that are prevalent in Vermont, and the text size can be easily adjusted by Vermonters with vision challenges. The new design offers a vastly improved reading and navigation experience for smart phone users.‘We are always seeking more efficient and effective ways to serve Vermonters,’ said Eric Avildsen, executive director of Vermont Legal Aid. ‘We have invested in improving our website because we know that the web is an important tool for individuals who are looking for information and resources to help them resolve problems.’There were approximately 115,000 visits to Vermont Law Help in 2012 and more than 102,000 visits so far in 2013. Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line of Vermont are nonprofit law firms that provide civil legal services primarily to low-income Vermonters.Visit the Vermont Law Help website at vtlawhelp.org.
by Morgan True vtdigger.org Testifying before the House Health Care Committee on Tuesday, Mark Larson, the man in charge of the Vermont Health Connect rollout, said he welcomed the opportunity to talk about health care coverage instead of IT problems ‘ however brief the respite was.Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, will be back before that committee again this afternoon.In his comments Tuesday, Larson planted the victory flag saying, ‘If our goal was to make sure people had options for obtaining coverage in January, not experiencing a gap in coverage, we feel that the option provided by the governor in early November have successfully accomplished that, despite all our challenges along the way.’He came prepared with numbers to back that up Tuesday.Of the 65,000 Vermonters the administration estimated needed to sign up for coverage by January, 54,000 have done so, and the remaining 11,000 are using the sign-up extension.The 54,000 fall into two groups ‘ those who obtain coverage through an employer and those who buy coverage for themselves or their families as individuals.For those who receive employer coverage, two-thirds were enrolled directly through insurers or were automatically enrolled with them using the plan most similar to what they had in 2013. Those people are enrolled in plans for the entire year starting in January.The remaining third that are using the extension will have to sign-up by the end of March.There were also close to 800 people with individual or family plans who will need to obtain insurance through Vermont Health Connect because their employers decided to drop their employee plans.‘One of the big priorities was to make sure nobody experienced a gap in coverage, and for the small group market we believe that we’ve accomplished that goal,’ Larson said.There are 7,200 so-called sole-proprietors, whom Larson described as small group plans of one person or family, who must now seek coverage on the individual market due to changes under the Affordable Care Act.Close to 34,000 of the more than 45,000 Vermonters on VHAP or Catamount qualified for Medicaid due to the federal program’s expansion. Gov. Peter Shumlin noted in his remarks Tuesday that those Vermonters will pay no premiums and see their coverage expanded.That leaves roughly 11,000 Vermonters formerly on VHAP and Catamount, who the administration assumed would not be eligible for the Medicaid expansion and would have to enroll in subsidized plans through Vermont Health Connect.‘What we’re finding so far is that about a third who have applied, have actually qualified for Medicaid,’ Larson said.Asked how many formerly uninsured Vermonters now have coverage, Larson said it’s difficult to get an exact figure.‘What we do know is that of those who have been enrolled in Medicaid through Vermont Health Connect, not the ones who enrolled through VHAP and Catamount who transitioned, those who are submitting an application, that there are several thousand who were not in our Medicaid enrollment before,’ Larson said, adding that he can’t be certain, ‘That gives us some indication that there are a number of Vermonters who were previously uninsured who have gained coverage.’How many? At least 5,000, Larson said.To know for certain how many of the roughly 40,000 previously uninsured Vermonters now have coverage, the state will have to wait for the annual Household Survey conducted in the fall by the Department of Financial Regulation.Larson acknowledged that wait times at the call center are still unacceptable, and said his department is still working to reduce them. The waits are the result of higher than expected call volumes and, especially, the length of calls.‘That was an unpredictable factor,’ Larson said, adding that the state will bring on more call center staff soon, and create an overflow capacity. That expenditure is covered by his department’s existing contract, and won’t factor into the budget adjustment act.When Larson returns to testify Wednesday, he’s likely to field more questions about the governor’s announcement of a third-party review of the exchange rollout.He’ll be joined by Department of Information and Innovation Commissioner Richard Boes to give testimony on IT issues.Asked if he would give the committee an update on dealings with CGI, Larson responded that, ‘It is not a topic I can provide a whole lot of information on because it is an ongoing legal and contractual issue, so what I’d be able to share is fairly limited.’
Burke Mountain Ski Area,by Hilary Niles vtdigger.org(link is external) Jay Peak’s developers announced at a hotel groundbreaking in Burke on Tuesday afternoon that their proposed biotechnology plant in Newport had gained a key federal approval.The news that the Newport project had won EB-5 approval further buoyed the optimism on Burke Mountain, where planned expansions have been pushed back due to delays in the same immigrant investor program that will fund the proposed AnC Bio facility. Q Burke Resort’s 180,000-square-foot hotel is slated to open in December 2015, along with an aquatic center and tennis facility. Construction will commence next spring or summer. Two more hotels, adding another 116 units to the mountain, are set to follow.Dirt flies at a groundbreaking ceremony for Q Burke Resort’s 180,000-square-foot hotel, which is slated to open in December 2015. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDiggerAnC Bio’s federal stamp of approval is still fresh. Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros and partial owner Bill Stenger said they got the news Monday night. Designs and state and local permitting for the facility already are underway.Both the ski area and biotech projects, as well as ongoing buildout at Jay Peak and still more plans for downtown Newport, are funded through the federal Immigrant Investor Program, known as EB-5 for the employment-based visa it affords.The group is also spearheading development of the Newport State Airport in Coventry, through private investment.Through the EB-5 program, would-be immigrants invest $1 million — or $500,000 for Vermont projects — in companies poised to create at least 10 jobs worth of American economic activity. If all goes as planned, subsequent conditional visas are transformed to green cards in two years for investors and their immediate family members.Q Burke owner Ariel Quiros (left) is joined by Gov. Peter Shumlin and Quiros’ son, Ary, at a groundbreaking ceremony for Q Burke Resort’s new hotel. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger“We all know job creation is what Vermont’s future quality of life is dependent on,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who along with Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., an aide for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and others, took shovels in hand to commemorate the groundbreaking at Q Burke Resorts on Tuesday.“But it is easier done in some areas of the state than in others,” Shumlin said.He lauded the development of Burke Mountain, Jay Peak and Newport as anchors that help locals from the Northeast Kingdom stay in the area and thrive.Q Burke president and CEO Ary Quiros, the son of owner Ariel Quiros, asked about two dozen mountain staffers to join the groundbreaking ceremony. He noted their contributions to achieving financial stability for the long-struggling resort’s (link is external)operations.Stenger, in turn, expressed gratitude for support from local, state and federal officials for support of the team’s many projects and for the EB-5 program. Its current pilot stage expires in 2015, and developers around the country with ongoing and potential projects are advocating for it to gain permanent status.Stenger said Jay Peak’s integrated set of developments, dubbed the Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative, would not be possible without the “patient capital” the EB-5 program provides.But to date, serial scandals have plagued the program, causing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to step up oversight.EB-5 projects around the country have reported delays similar to that experienced by AnC Bio, which Ariel Quiros intends to open as a biotechnology manufacturing facility and a block of high-tech clean rooms for lease to commercial interests and researchers.Investors in the project have waited months while their visa applications remained under scrutiny(link is external) pending review of associated business plans.AnC Bio’s new green light indicates USCIS approval of the business and its job creation projections. But Q Burke’s first hotel has yet to receive the same thumbs-up from USCIS.Project manager Alex MacLean said the team is confident it will obtain the approval and secure the remaining investments needed to complete the project as planned.Burke Mountain Academy director Kirk Dwyer, who also threw dirt for the ceremony, said the mountain could not have come under more qualified ownership and management. He emphasized that his elite ski school’s existence depends on the presence and financial stability of the ski area.
Vermont Business Magazine The University of Vermont Medical Center and the University of Vermont Medical Group recently announced the appointment of Rick Vincent to the position of vice president, Finance, and chief financial officer. The University of Vermont Medical Group includes approximately 600 physicians who are jointly employed by the medical center and the University of Vermont College of Medicine.Vincent has served as vice president, Finance, for the UVM Medical Group since 2011. He was named interim vice president, Finance, for the UVM Medical Center in 2104. Prior to these roles, Vincent held several other finance and operational positions in the organization, including director, Orthopedics and Cancer Services. He has been with the medical center since 1994.Vincent earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He also holds a Master of Science degree in Administration and Management from St. Michael’s College, Colchester, VT. He earned a certification as a management accountant from the Institute of Management Accountants and is certified as a medical practice executive by the Medical Group Management Association.About the University of Vermont Medical CenterThe University of Vermont Medical Center (link is external) (formerly Fletcher Allen Health Care), is a 447 bed tertiary care regional referral center providing advanced care to approximately 1 million residents in Vermont and northern New York. Together with our partners at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine and the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, we are Vermont’s academic medical center. The University of Vermont Medical Center also serves as a community hospital for approximately 150,000 residents in Chittenden and Grand Isle counties. The University of Vermont Medical Center is a member of The University of Vermont Health Network(link is external), a four hospital system established to deliver high quality academic medicine to every community we serve.Partners are:The University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center(link is external)The University of Vermont Health Network – Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital(link is external)The University of Vermont Health Network – Elizabethtown Community Hospital(link is external)
by John McClaughry In two short weeks the Vermont legislature will be back in Montpelier. The central issue will be contriving some way to produce a balanced General Fund budget for 2017 – without any visible increases in taxes. Every year for the past five the legislature has faced nagging deficits. For the current fiscal year (FY16) the legislature will have to find at least $28 million to fill the gap, plus withdrawing at least $10 million from the Human Resources Reserve Fund. But solving the FY16 budget problem will be a minor chore compared with the FY17 problem, especially since Gov. Shumlin has (so far) ruled out new taxes for that purpose.The Joint Fiscal Committee, the legislature’s budget monitor, projects what’s called “the hungry alligator”: a FY17 deficit of $58.5 million. For FY18: $80 million. For FY19: $75 million. For FY 20: $95 million.Former finance and tax commissioner Tom Pelham has pointed out that the “2011 to 2016 spending increase of 22.1 % compares to a state population growth of three tenths of a percent, inflation growth of 7.7%, and an estimated Gross State Product growth of 15.4%… State spending has grown by a staggering and unsustainable amount over the past five years.”The Vermont State Employees Retirement System is only 74% funded, and the retirement fund for teachers is only 58% funded. For the first time the state is borrowing $30 million from its own cash flow to cover unfunded retired teacher health benefits. This gives the state a slightly higher interest rate return than does the credit market, but also opens a tempting opportunity for fiscal mismanagement.Looking beyond the General Fund, the Transportation Fund spends about $250 million a year. JFO observes that of four thousand bridges in the state, 569 are obsolete and 279 are structurally deficient. Gov. Shumlin wants more incentives for (affluent) people to buy electric vehicles which, whatever their merits, do not pay the motor fuel tax that is the main revenue source of the T-Fund.Each year for the past six years the legislature has increased one or both of the two school property tax rates that feed the Education Fund. In the coming election year, legislators are likely to be asked to explain why public education spending has increased 42% over the past 10 years, while the number of pupils has decreased by 21.5% over the same period.Many voters who pleaded for homestead property tax relief last election day are disappointed – if not angry – to learn that the legislature’s “solution” is not property tax relief, but consolidation into mega-districts. Last spring the legislature and governor offered homestead property tax rate reductions to prod school district voters to rapidly consolidate (Act 46). The reductions for districts that accept the offer will have to be made up by taxpayers in the districts that do not.These new unified districts may (conceivably) be more efficient, when they shut down smaller high-cost schools. Whether those savings will survive the inevitable growth of educational bureaucracies remains an open question. Many people believe that the combination of tax incentives and pressure from Montpelier to consolidate will have the practical effect of shrinking parental choice in education.As a backdrop to the budget struggle, consider that Vermont now exhibits the second lowest fertility rate in the country (the lowest six states are all in New England). And despite a reported unemployment rate of less than four percent, the trend of Vermont’s age 25-64 labor force population has been negative since 2010.This is a picture of a high-tax fiscally stressed state, fewer babies being born, its working population shrinking, and the over-65 share of the population growing, with their increased medical costs.Vermont does offer some economic advantages – a clean environment, good schools, low crime rate, reliable labor force. Whether those advantages can overcome cold weather, high taxation, regulatory excess, artificially high electricity costs (to combat “climate change”), deferred infrastructure maintenance, unfunded pension obligations, and a regrettable reputation for being the incubator for advanced governmental experiments remains to be seen. One has a right to be skeptical.John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org(link is external)).
25Delaware34422783518 4Utah1522811306 50New York481740315025 2South Dakota261169229 15New Hampshire397211749 12North Dakota291015121843 9Arizona2741921155 7Idaho223638227 33Georgia103541401920 8Iowa13121462039 Overall rankStateCost of livingCrime rateCommunity well-beingHealth care qualityTax rateWeather 38Missouri123745352338 Vermont Business Magazine Vermont is the 23rd-best state for retirement, according to a new Bankrate.com report. Vermont scored well in healthcare quality (#10) and low crime (overall #1 in nation). The main drawbacks are a relatively high cost of living (#42), taxes (#41) and the weather (#35). Regionally, New York was worst overall, while three New England states finished ahead of Vermont: Maine #11 (cheaper, better health care, better weather), New Hampshire #15 (lower taxes, better health care, worse weather); and Rhode Island #22 (better health care, better weather). The study examined six key factors: cost of living, taxes, healthcare, weather, crime and residents’ overall well-being. Wyoming is the best state for retirement, according to a new Bankrate report. Wyoming’s neighbors South Dakota, Colorado and Utah rank second, third and fourth, respectively. The region boasts strong well-being scores and it also offers a low cost of living and below-average crime. New York is the worst state for retirement, owing mostly to the nation’s highest tax burden and a very high overall cost of living. West Virginia, Oregon, Arkansas and Louisiana comprise the rest of the bottom five. The survey found that 60 percent of people want to move when they retire.Among traditional retirement hotspots, Arizona fared the best at No. 9. Florida came in 28th (dragged down by a high crime rate and below-average healthcare quality) and Hawaii 45th (largely because it has the nation’s highest cost of living).While many people think of beaches when they think about retirement, only one of Bankrate’s 10 best states for retirement touches the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico (Virginia, at No. 5). Nine of the 12 worst states are coastal states.“There are a lot of factors that go into how well retirees will do in a state,” said Claes Bell, CFA, a senior analyst at Bankrate.com. “While features like pleasant weather and nearby amenities are important, nuts-and-bolts considerations like cost of living and the local tax burden may have a bigger impact on your overall quality of life. Many retirees live on a fixed income, and it’s hard to have a pleasant retirement if you’re constantly under financial pressure.”Sources:– Cost of Living: Council for Community and Economic Research– Crime: FBI– Well-being: Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index– Healthcare: Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research — Taxes: Tax Foundation– Weather: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 19Tennessee6473733424 48Oregon442831344031 Sources: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Gallup-Healthways; Council for Community and Economic Research; FBI; Tax Foundation; National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationBankrate, Inc.Bankrate is a leading publisher, aggregator and distributor of personal finance content on the Internet. Bankrate provides consumers with proprietary, fully researched, comprehensive, independent and objective personal finance editorial content across multiple vertical categories including mortgages, deposits, credit cards and other categories, such as retirement, automobile loans and taxes. The Bankrate network includes Bankrate.com, CreditCards.com and Caring.com, our flagship websites, and other owned and operated personal finance websites, including Interest.com, Bankaholic.com, Mortgage-calc.com, CreditCardGuide.com and CreditCards.ca. Bankrate aggregates rate information from over 4,800 institutions on more than 300 financial products. With coverage of over 600 local markets, Bankrate generates rate tables in all 50 U.S. states. Bankrate develops and provides web services to over 100 co-branded websites with online partners, including some of the most trusted and frequently visited personal finance sites on the Internet such as Yahoo!, CNBC and Bloomberg. In addition, Bankrate licenses editorial content to over 500 newspapers on a daily basis including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe.NEW YORK – March 1, 2016 – Bankrate 46Louisiana19494249544 37Indiana33046392734 45Hawaii50261223632 43Alaska4746237150 18South Carolina24481923916 20Pennsylvania311633243822 39California49311041452 22Rhode Island41182674312 27Nevada3744384684 40New Jersey43832184815 6Montana3319327 (tied)139 14Minnesota3015754248 23Vermont42129104135 26Massachusetts45213043911 34Illinois232435264636 21Texas17381148623 31Alabama7432827 (tied)1241 1Wyoming18553238 28Florida283912291728 3Colorado3225413163 5Virginia20417142410 42Connecticut46618254914 11Maine3832233727 41Maryland403434194413 44Oklahoma44048501126 36Ohio162747303237 47Arkansas114544453430 24Mississippi12343431042 29Michigan92939202645 16North Carolina213323163119 17Kansas83225362817 49West Virginia351450443347 30New Mexico22501647141 10Nebraska142020152121 13Wisconsin25131324746 32Kentucky5949422933 35Washington363624172540
by Jon Reidel (link sends e-mail)Where do your eyes focus during a conversation? An innovative study by University of Vermont researchers reveals that for children with autism spectrum disorder, the answer depends on how emotional the conversation is. The study, published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders(link is external), shows that children with the developmental disability fixate longer on a speaker’s mouth rather than the eyes when the conversation turns emotional. It’s the first study of its kind to use eye tracker technology to monitor eye movement during an interactive conversation, and the results could affect the way speech therapists treat the estimated 1 in 68 children who struggle with the social, communication and behavioral challenges caused by autism spectrum disorder (ASD).See how Professor Tiffany Hutchins used the eye-tracking technology during conversations with typically developing children and children with autism spectrum disorder.Using the Mirametrix S2 Eye Tracker system and Skype, the researchers compared the visual attention of typically developing children and children with ASD during a conversation about mundane topics, like what people do when they get up in the morning. Then, the conversation turned to emotions, like what makes the child sad or scared.“What you talk about really matters for children with ASD,” says lead author Tiffany Hutchins, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders. “You just change a few words by talking about what people do versus how they feel and you can have a profound impact on where eyes go for information.”Hutchins’ study also shows that a shift away from the eyes towards the mouth by children with ASD was associated with higher autism severity, more limited executive function, and poorer verbal and intellectual ability.Like driving in a snowstormAlthough it is unclear why children with ASD look at mouths more frequently during emotional conversations, Hutchins theorizes that talking about emotions strains executive function. Emotionally charged topics “likely place high demand on working memory, which, when a threshold is surpassed, makes rendering information from the eye region particularly difficult,” she says.Consequently, the child with ASD may start searching elsewhere for more accessible information.Talking about emotions is really hard and very draining for children with ASD,” says Hutchins. “It’s like driving in a snowstorm. Normally, when you drive around in good weather on a familiar route, you go on automatic pilot and sometimes don’t even remember how you got somewhere. But for a child with ASD, having a conversation, especially one about emotions, is more like driving in a snowstorm. In that situation, you are totally focused, every move is tense and effortful, and your executive function drains away. In fact, we found that decreased working memory correlated with decreased eye fixations, so as working memory decreases, then we see fewer fixations on the eyes.”Hutchins’ findings are also significant because eye information may be more relevant in conversations about emotions. As a result, children with ASD miss the chance to understand the relationship between facial expressions and underlying thoughts because they neglect the abundance of social meaning given in the eyes, she says.“It’s probably a situation where the poor are getting poorer,” Hutchins says. “If I’m asking you to talk about emotions, and that makes you even less likely to look in my eyes when you really need to go there because I’m more likely to be showing other evidence of an emotion like anger with my eyebrows, you are missing even more. It’s not that there’s no emotional information in the mouth, but during dynamic conversational exchanges they are missing a number of cues that a typically developing child would not.”Study could spur new research methods, treatmentsParticipants in the study included 19 typically developing children and 18 children diagnosed with ASD between the ages of six and 12 years of age. During conversations recorded via Skype, the tracking system, using infrared light bounching off the retinas, recorded X and Y coordinates of eye positions.We were amazed that no one had done this yet,” Hutchins says. “We found only two other studies that used eye tracking to look at social attention during actual conversations with other people, but none with autism. Combining Skype with basic eye-tracking technology feels like low-hanging fruit, and it circumvents a lot of the traditional challenges that we’ve had in the field so when that catches on, I think the implications are that you can do a lot with this technology. I think being first is one of our major contributions.”Hutchins says past studies have relied on social observation in videos or static pictures of people’s faces with different emotions, which didn’t require children with ASD to engage with someone in an interactive conversation. “When a child with ASD engages with me, they don’t just watch me passively, they have to monitor my engagement, think about what I’m doing, my tone, and my affect to get my full meaning, and that’s really different than passively observing something,” she says.Hutchins’ co-author, Ashley Brien, a UVM graduate student at the time of the study, is now a speech pathologist at a school district in northern Vermont. The pair are now considering how the study affects the way speech pathologists work with students with ASD. For example, they say therapists should think about the consequences of telling a child with autism to look intently into the their eyes.“Some social skills programs and many treatment goals for children with autism involve trying to get them to initiate and sustain eye-contact during interaction” says Hutchins. Brien adds that the consequences of these practices, like increased anxiety, could be counterproductive. As Brien says, “some of the interventions that are used are not time tested or evidence based, but we’re hoping to change that.”
Dynapower Corp,Vermont Business Magazine Dynapower Company, LLC, the world’s leading independent manufacturer of energy storage inverters and fully-integrated storage systems, today announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued the company a patent for its Dynamic Transfer(link is external) technology. The patented technology enables the seamless transition of an energy storage system with a Dynapower inverter from grid-tied to backup battery power in the event of a grid disturbance.Dynapower’s BTM-250 energy storage system utilizes Dynapower’s patented Dynamic Transfer technology, which allows the system to seamlessly transition from grid-tied to battery backup power in the event of a grid disturbance. Dynapower Company photo.“This technology enables our utility customers and their rate payers to have increased energy surety and provides resiliency from energy storage systems using Dynapower energy storage inverters,” said Chip Palombini, sales manager for Dynapower’s Energy Storage Group.Dynapower’s Dr. Apurva Somani, R & D Lead, and Palombini are inventors of United States patent 9.819,190(link is external). Dynamic Transfer was designed to address energy resiliency issues, and more importantly, to ensure power surety for utilities and commercial and industrial users of Dynapower energy storage inverters and systems.This is critical as the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that the economic costs of power outages amount to about $120 billion annually in the United States. “Dynamic Transfer can help reduce the economic impact of power outages significantly by providing facilities with Dynapower inverters and energy storage systems the ability to seamlessly transition to backup battery power during a grid disturbance,” said Adam Knudsen, president of Dynapower, adding: “This is critically important for many facilities where even a short interruption in power can result in lost data, production time or food spoilage. Dynamic Transfer ensures their critical processes continue without interruption of power during a grid disturbance.”Dynapower inverters and energy storage systems featuring the now-patented Dynamic Transfer capability have been installed to help power island nations with 100 percent renewables as well as help reduce the electricity bills and provide critical back up power at colleges, resorts, malls, factories, breweries, wineries, and sports stadiums.Dynapower Company, LLC.With facilities in South Burlington, Vermont and Union City, California, Dynapower is the leading independent manufacturer of energy storage inverters for utility and commercial and industrial applications. Over the last decade, Dynapower has deployed over 375MWs of inverters in over 150 projects in 12 different countries.Source: SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 28, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Dynapower Company, LLC