House passes $95 million broadband, connectivity, housing coronavirus recovery package

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House passes $95 million broadband, connectivity, housing coronavirus recovery package

Thu, 06/18/2020 - 2:33pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont House today approved an additional $95 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds in the Broadband, Connectivity, and Housing bill (H.966). The passage of H.966 includes $43 million for broadband, connectivity, and cybersecurity initiatives and an additional $52 million for housing initiatives.

Highlights of the bill include:

Broadband: 

  • $800,000 to COVID Response Connectivity Community Program Grants

  • $2 million to a broadband line extension customer assistance program to cover up to $3,000 of a customer’s costs for those located on the edge of current service 

  • $11 million to the Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative to support internet service providers getting service to underserved areas, prioritizing households with low incomes and remote education needs

  • $800,000 for the COVID-Response Telehealth Connectivity Program 

  • $4 million to update the state’s antiquated Unemployment Insurance system

  • $3 million to the state and $350,000 to municipalities to mitigate cybersecurity concerns

  • $152,000 to support Vermont’s E-911 system

  • $20 million to prevent disconnection and give financial assistance to Vermonters unable to pay their utility bills

Housing: 

  • $9 million to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board for housing and facilities necessary to provide safe shelter and assistance for persons who are, or are at risk of, experiencing homelessness

  • $6 million in foreclosure protection for low and moderate-income homeowners

  • $250,000.00 to provide counseling and assistance to landlords concerning tenancy, rental assistance, and related issues

  • $30 million in rental assistance

  • $6.2 million for the Re-housing Recovery Program

Total housing investment of $75 million between $23 million in S.350 and $52 million in S.966.

“Over the last three months it has become blindingly clear that broadband internet service is the indispensable infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Representative Tim Briglin (D-Thetford), Chair of the House Committee on Energy & Technology. “We know that conquering the digital divide has become a moral imperative. Never has the need for reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband connectivity been so critical. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the accompanying social distancing, has brought into sharp relief the socioeconomic disparities between those who are connected and those who are not. Vermonters who cannot access or cannot afford broadband connectivity, many who live in rural areas, cannot attend school, cannot go to work, or may not be able to access medical care. Over the last three months, in order to access your government, whether you’re seeking justice in court, or attending a school board meeting or legislative committee hearing, you need a broadband internet connection. Getting an unemployment claim processed in Vermont has not been an easy task in recent months. Try it without access to the internet. There are 21,000 addresses in Vermont that can only access the internet at dial-up speeds. Another 50k do not have access to what the FCC qualifies as broadband and these families are increasingly challenged in operating in the 21st century world.”

“This bill allows Vermonters who are experiencing homelessness, including approximately 250 households with children, to find and sustain themselves in either more suitable transitional housing or permanent housing,” noted House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee Chair, Representative Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury). “It also provides upstream homelessness protection by offering foreclosure and rental assistance, which benefits both landlords and tenants. With the substantial investment in housing rehabilitation, as well as money for the legal services that landlords and currently homeless households may need to navigate the rehousing process, this bill is an essential step as we work to prevent homelessness, find housing for those experiencing homelessness, and protect both landlords and tenants from the economic impacts of COVID-19.”

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) added, “the COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the vast inequities between Vermonters who are connected and those who are not. This means a difference in access to education and learning for Vermont kids, access to telework options for workers, and access to filing for unemployment insurance for laid-off Vermonters. This is a substantial investment in broadband and connectivity that will help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the $52 million in housing assistance in this bill, on top of the $23 million in S.350, will make a significant difference in protecting Vermonters' access to housing, and rehousing Vermonters experiencing homelessness. It is the right thing to do when it comes to making sure that when we are faced with a crisis like COVID-19, all Vermonters have a safe home to go to.”

Source: MONTPELIER, VT - Speaker of the House 6.18.2020