Legislature Passes $93 Million Economic Relief Plan, Scott Wanted $310 million
Monday, June 15, 2020
Posted by: Jeff Couture
The Vermont House fast-tracked a $93 million Coronavirus Emergency Economic Recovery Grants package and sent it to Governor Phil Scott for his signature. The money is targeted for those businesses most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant economic impact. The Vermont unemployment rate is at a record 15.6 percent. However, Scott and his administration are "frustrated" with the package that cuts his $310 million proposal by more than two-thirds and adds restrictions in how it is dispersed.
The House bill provides:
- $50 million of Coronavirus Emergency Economic Recovery Grants distributed to businesses by the Department of Taxes and Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
- $20 million to local, regional, and State economic development organizations to distribute grants under the program, which may include the Vermont Economic Development Authority, regional development corporations, community action agencies, and private institutions.
- $23 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for grants to nonprofit housing partners and service organizations as well as for shelter facilities necessary to provide self shelter and assistance for persons who are, or at risk of, experiencing homelessness, in order to mitigate COVID-19 effects.
“It is critical that money gets into the hands of Vermonters and their businesses as quickly as possible,” said House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero). “This package is on the fast-track to ensure there are as few impediments between Vermont businesses and the relief money as possible. The legislature is working intensely to get nearly a billion dollars into the hands of Vermonter and Vermont businesses, while we plan for unforeseen circumstances and ensure we are able to meet the greatest needs in the months to come.”
In an effort to get the relief money to Vermont businesses as quickly as possible, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Department of Taxes have 10 days to publish guidelines governing the implementation of their programs, including application and award procedures, eligibility standards, grant amounts, and provisions that ensure equitable distribution of the funds among regions and across business types, sizes, and sectors.
House Commerce and Economic Development Committee Chair, Representative Michael Marcotte (R-Coventry) added, “the Legislature’s proposal focuses on grants, rather than loans, as our members heard from businesses that this is the area of greatest need and they have limited ability to incur additional debt. There will be additional legislation addressing business recovery efforts coming next week, but we prioritized fast-tracking this bill to ensure businesses will receive funds as soon as possible.”
“We expect the number of Vermonters experiencing housing insecurity to sharply increase in the coming months,” added House General, Housing, & Military Affairs Chair, Representative Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury). “Ensuring this money is available now for shelter facilities is critical to mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19 on Vermont families in the months to come.”
The disparity in the amount of funding between the Legislature and the governor stems from lawmakers retaining most of the money in hopes of applying to the state budget, which could lose upwards of $400 million in the fiscal year 2021 that begins July 1. The governor said he understood lawmakers' concern.
Scott, however, along with Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein, stated at the governor's media briefing today that businesses are dying now and if they fail, the budget will be far worse going forward, with ongoing high unemployment and reduced consumer spending, for the next couple years.
Plus, as the federal CARES Act is currently written, the $1.25 billion the state received for pandemic relief cannot be used for budgetary reasons. That could change as Congress continues to work on providing more flexibility, but there is no guarantee it will.
In the meantime, Scott said, businesses will fail.
"We need to get the money out now," he said.
Goldstein said, "The anguish is palpable."
Goldstein also presented the second phase of the governor's recovery plan today, which adds another $90 million, thus bringing the total aid package to $400 million, if the Legislature goes along with it.
See Scott's plan here.
The phase two money includes about $20 million for broadband expansion, especially into the hinterland. This is not only important for businesses, she said, but as we've seen with the distance learning efforts during the pandemic, important for education as well.
Despite his disappointment, Scott said he would not veto this $93 million bill because businesses need it and at this point, "We'll take what we can get." He said he hopes lawmakers will come through with the full $400 million eventually and sooner than later. But, in the meantime, "A third of a load is better than none."
Source: Vermont Business Magazine