Steve Zind

Senior Reporter & Special Projects Producer

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.

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As a new school year gets underway in Vermont, thousands of students are newly eligible to receive free lunches.

A law passed by the legislature provides students who previously received reduced price lunches with the free meals. 

Under the old reduced lunch program meals cost 40 cents.  Now that all students from income eligible families will receive free lunches, the state expects greater participation. 

Laurie Colgan is Child Nutrition Program Director for the Agency of Education. 

The state has detected eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in more mosquitoes collected in areas of Whiting, Leicester and Brandon.

The viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and the three towns in Rutland and Addison Counties are considered hotspots for EEE.

But state infectious disease epidemiologist Erica Berl says there’s evidence the virus is much more widespread.

AP/Toby Talbot

The state office complex in Waterbury has been largely empty since Tropical Storm Irene flooded it two years ago, and the displacement of state workers has hurt many local businesses that depended on them.

Thursday the state announced that FEMA would provide a critical piece of construction funding.

It won’t necessarily speed up the project, but the announcement was an important step on the way to returning state employees to Waterbury. Ever since Irene Albert Caron has been down to just one full time person at his Waterbury village garage – himself. 

Social service advocates and the state have settled a lawsuit over the investigation of reports of adult abuse.

Vermont Legal Aid and Disability Rights Vermont had sued the state over concerns that reports of abuse were not being responded to quickly enough and not investigated adequately.

Barbara Prine, lead attorney of Vermont Legal Aid, said since the lawsuit was filed in late 2011, the state office of Adult Protection Services has largely eliminated a backlog of abuse cases. But other issues remained.

AP/Toby Talbot / Weston's mobile home park in Berlin was badly damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.

This week, on the second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene VPR is completing work on our Mapping the Money Project.  Our online interactive maps and charts show how much money was spent on Irene recovery and how and where it was spent. 

By far, the lion’s share of the relief money went to rebuilt state and town roads and bridges.

Additionally millions of federal dollars has been devoted to helping individuals and families. 

According to the 2010 U.S. census, 62 souls live in the town Northeast Kingdom town of Victory.

The town has no schools and just a handful of children yet education costs are causing a  dramatic increase in property taxes.

Victory resident Carol Easter says she was stunned when she opened her property tax bill.  In a single year her taxes more than doubled to $3,400.

“I was flabbergasted,” Easter says. “I have no idea where I'm going to get that kind of money."

Easter isn’t alone. 

The number of community based clinics providing health care to Veterans continues to grow. 

The clinics complement the services provided by the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in White River Junction. 

The VA says the clinics are just one aspect of a significant shift in the approach to health care for veterans.

Senator Bernie Sanders chairs the Senate’s Veteran’s Affair Committee.  Sanders says there have been some issues when it comes to providing VA services to veterans, like a backlog in processing claims.  

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders says at this time he does not favor halting aid, including military aid, to Egypt in light of a police crackdown that has resulted in more than one thousand deaths.

Some members of Congress, including Arizona Senator John McCain who recently returned from Egypt, want to cut aid to the country’s military leaders as a way to pressure them to stop the killing.   Sanders disagrees.

Vermont Telecommunications Authority

Vermont officials continue to promise that the state will have 100% broadband coverage by year’s end, but they’ve always stressed that they can’t make a similar pledge for cell coverage. 

Improving cell service involves financial and technological challenges different from broadband. 

Consider the basic differences between broadband and cell service.

Broadband only has to be available in those places where people live and work. Cell service has to cover the miles of highway between work and home.  A small gap along the way is all it takes to drop a call.

The state is seeking to bolster existing broadband service in some communities in an effort to help local economies.

Until now, the efforts of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority have been devoted to making sure broadband reaches all areas of the state.

Executive Director Chris Campbell says with that goal in sight, the authority is looking beyond it and trying to determine how to meet increasing demands for bandwidth.

Vermont Center For Geographic Information - VCGI

Vermont is again ranked as the state with the highest average internet speed according to the latest Akamai Quarterly State Of The Internet Report

In the past officials have cited the report as proof that Vermont is doing well in its broadband efforts, but there’s no shortage of people who are skeptical of the report’s findings based on their own broadband speeds.

Resiliency has been a buzzword ever since Tropical Storm Irene.

The goal of resiliency is to improve the ability of communities to recover from natural disasters.  In some cases that involves building bigger culverts and better bridges.  But there’s also a digital side to resiliency.

After Irene, bulletin boards sprang up in many towns hit by the flooding.  They were covered with announcements, pleas, offers, announcements and other information.  

One of Vermont’s two landfills will close next week. 

The Agency of Natural Resources says it has reached an agreement with the Moretown Landfill which requires it to stop accepting trash on Monday, July 15. 

The landfill’s owners had challenged a state denial of their request to continue operating. 

Agency Secretary Deb Markowitz says the agreement avoids a court battle, protects the environment, and addresses concerns of those who live near the landfill.

The state says IBM has dropped its objection to the disclosure of the number of jobs cut at the company’s plant in Essex Junction. 

In the wake of IBM’s decision the state has announced that 419 people were laid off this month.

On Monday IBM told state officials that the disclosure of the layoff information would violate a provision of the public records act that protects trade secrets.

According to the state, IBM argued that the number constitutes highly sensitive and confidential commercial information.

AP/Toby Talbot

IBM has provided the state with details about the number of jobs cut at its Essex Junction plant, but it wants the state to keep the information from the public. 

The company claims that releasing the number could harm it.

The number of employees given pink slips in Essex Junction a month ago has been the subject of much speculation for weeks. 

Under Vermont law IBM is required to inform the state of mass layoffs and respond to requests for additional information. 

Update: The F-35 Debate

Jul 16, 2013

This week there were several developments in the debate over basing the F-35 jet fighter at Burlington International Airport. 

Supporters won a victory Tuesday when the South Burlington City Council reversed an earlier decision and voted to support having F-35s in their city. 

Wednesday night, Winooski which would see increased noise levels from F-35 training missions took an opposing stand when the city council passed a resolution declaring the plane would not be welcome. 

There’s still no official word on the exact number of layoffs at the IBM plant in Essex Junction. 

The deadline for the company to inform the state was this past weekend, and state officials believe that the company is cutting hundreds of jobs. 

Meanwhile the labor department has organized a job fair today for displaced workers.

The department had hoped 80 employers with immediate openings would express an interest in attending the fair.  Labor commissioner Annie Noonan says the interest has been even greater than anticipated.

The state is still waiting to hear how many jobs are being cut at IBM’s Essex Junction plant.

The company told officials last month that employees were being laid off and it's believed the number of jobs is in the hundreds, but the state isn’t sure and the uncertainty is prompting talk of changing the rules that require companies to inform the state of large layoffs.

IBM has done nothing wrong under state rules which require companies to inform the state within 24 hours when 25 or more employees are terminated.

Flickr/themonk

Friday 7/12/13 at Noon & 7PM: At least 340 IBM employees are being laid off at the Essex Junction plant this month, and the number will likely be higher when it becomes official on Friday. We talk with Labor Commissioner Annie Noonan about the state's programs to assist laid off IBMers, and with economist Art Woolf about the role of IBM in the state’s economy.

AP/Toby Talbot

As federal officials visit Vermont to take stock of last week’s flooding more homes have been inundated by localized heavy rains.

Williamstown is the latest addition to the growing list of Vermont towns hit by flash flooding. 

Late Monday night heavy rains forced the Jail Branch Brook over its banks in the center of the village.

Town Manager Jackie Higgins says the damage to roads and property is more extensive than the 2011 floods that hit Williamstown.

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