Leonine: Vermont Legislators offer $170 million for business relief

Leonine Public Affairs – The Vermont Legislature spent long hours every day last week working to finalize tax and spending bills for the first quarter of FY21 and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars received from the federal government and placed in the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). The Senate authorized almost $100 million in “Phase II” CRF spending for Vermont businesses and nonprofit organizations. This follows $70 million authorized in “Phase I” a few weeks ago. The Senate also authorized over $60 million in relief funding for housing which follows $23 million in housing grants in Phase I.

For the healthcare sector, which has been rocked with heavy revenue losses as a result of the COVID-19 emergency response, the Senate Authorized $275 million for healthcare provider stabilization and $28 million for hazard pay. This money for healthcare stabilization is in addition to the $58 million that was already allocated for this purpose in early May. The Senate also approved $22 million for food security and $15 million for childcare support.

The Senate action took place in close coordination with the House, which had approved similar measures last week and early this week. The House took the lead this week on S.351, which authorizes $36 million for the agriculture and forestry sectors.

On Thursday the Senate Finance Committee finalized their recommendations for a $20 million package for broadband and connectivity needs. The Senate’s proposal is more inclusive than the House passed version by allowing more types of providers to participate and by giving more flexibility to the Commissioner of Public Service to determine how those funds should be allocated.

In total, the legislature is poised to allocate $750 million in economic relief to try and stabilize the economy and the healthcare system in response to the COVID-19 crisis between Phase I and Phase II. In addition to the $750 million, the legislature will likely approve holding back $240 in CRF funds for later deployment when they return in August. This includes $100 million for stabilization of K-12 schools and $140 million to be determined. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, state lawmakers (in Vermont and across the United States) have hoped federal rules would change and allow funding from the CARES Act, which is the source of CRF funding, to be used to backfill state budget gaps. While there is no clear indication this will happen, there is hope it will happen before the legislature resumes meeting in mid-August, which is when lawmakers will have to approve a budget for the last nine months of FY21.

The 2020 session has been unprecedented. COVID-19 created a statewide (and global) emergency not experienced in modern history. As the legislature nears its summer recess (in itself unprecedented) it is worth recapping some of the unique experiences and dynamics that have played out since the legislature closed down in March.

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