Rep. Mike Yantachka
Ever since Vermont received $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) as a result of the federal CARES Act, Governor Scott and the Legislature have been trying to decide how to allocate those funds to relieve the economic distress caused by the “stay home, stay safe” response to the virus. More than $90M was used almost immediately to help unemployed Vermonters and small businesses. The Governor subsequently called for $400M more to be released for assistance to businesses, many of which are in danger of closing completely. While the objective is clear and uncontested, the Legislature, specifically the House where money bills must originate, has had the task of discerning how and where to allocate CRF money within the guidelines of the CARES Act. Violating the guidelines would put Vermont at risk of having to return the money to the U.S. Treasury next year. To be eligible for CRF, the spending must:
- be necessary expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 emergency;
- not have been accounted for in the budget most recently approved before March 27, 2020; and
- be incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020.
Over the three-month period since the emergency went into effect, House committees, with stakeholder input, have been looking for eligible avenues within their areas of jurisdiction that would help all aspects of the Vermont economy, including individuals, businesses, non-profits, and those in need of social services.
With the goal that no Vermonter or Vermont community should be left behind because of COVID-19 impacts, several bills were passed during the last two months of the session that allocated $1.04B of CRF money to help Vermont and its citizens get back on their feet.
The appropriations include:
- $356M to stabilize our health care system, including $257M for provider stabilization, as well as funding for mental health, childcare, senior services, and suicide prevention;
- $196M for assistance to businesses, including restart grants, marketing and tourism, public safety, and the Arts;
- $170M for pandemic frontline workers, including $20M for hazard pay;
- $91M for housing assistance, including eviction and foreclosure prevention and homelessness assistance;
- $73M for higher education;
- $50M for Pre-K education;
- $43M for broadband connectivity assistance both for residential affordability and network expansion, E-911 system expenses, and to cover utility accounts that were 90+ days in arrears due to the pandemic;
- $35M for agriculture and forestry relief;
- $16M for the judicial system; and
- $13M for municipalities.
This is the largest emergency recovery program ever passed by the Vermont Legislature and reflects an enormous amount of work by the members of the House and Senate, our legislative staff, the administration, and the Joint Fiscal Office. While there still may be some changes as agreement on the details of the bills by the House and Senate are negotiated, we expect to finish our work by the end of this week and recess for the month of July. We will be back together in August to complete the final three-quarters of the FY21 budget.