Vermont House passes $79 million COVID relief bill

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Vermont House passes $79 million COVID relief bill

Fri, 02/26/2021 - 3:48pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Speaker Jill Krowinski today issued the following statement:

“Today, the Vermont House of Representatives met and voted to pass H.315 a bill that would provide over $79 million to Vermonters. This is an important step in our efforts to support working families and small businesses across Vermont. We still have more work to do to provide relief and continue the work to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this bill would provide funds to Vermonters as soon as possible and allow us to break ground on projects that are critically needed.”

Highlights of the bill include:

  • Provides $700,000 CRF for New Americans, refugees, and immigrants.
  • Provides $1.3 million between general funds and CRF to the Department for Children and Families for families participating in the Reach Up program.
  • Provides Economic Recovery Grants of $10 million general funds for Vermont businesses that experienced an economic loss due to the pandemic and did not meet the eligibility criteria for federal programs.
  • Provides $10 million CRF funds to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to provide shelter for persons at risk of experiencing homelessness or suffering economic harm due to the pandemic.
  • In the Department of Mental Health; provides $300,000 general funds for Emergency Outreach Service Grants; $4 million general funds for Housing Supports in community settings; $850,000 general funds to provide case management staff at the Designated and Specialized Service Agencies; and provides $150,000 general funds for training and wellness supports for front line health care workers.
  • Provides $1,376,000 CRF to the Vermont Food Bank to pay the costs of the Vermont Farmers to Families Food Box Program for the months of January and February 2021.
  • Provides $100,000 general funds to the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to provide technology assistance to address social isolation.
  • Provides $200,000 general funds for data collection and analysis regarding health equity and health disparities.
  • Provides $15 million reallocated CRF to continue a school indoor air quality grant program with Efficiency Vermont.
  • Reserves $20 million general funds to support future legislative action regarding pension funding initiatives and prefunding of other postemployment benefits (OPEB).
  • Provides $1 million reauthorized in the Department of Public Service from unexpended CRF for the COVID-Response Line Extension Customer Assistance Program established by Sec. 13of Act 137of 2020, and $1.2 million reauthorized CRF for the Connected Community Resilience Planning Program established by Sec. 14a of Act 137 of 2020.
  • Provides $3 million general funds to the Agency of Agriculture, Food and markets for the Working Lands Program to allow early funding of projects.
  • Provides $10 million general funds to the Agency of Natural Resources of which $5 million is for the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation Vermont Outdoor Recreation Collaborative (VOREC) and $5 million is for the Central Office for investments to improve recreational infrastructure and access on State lands and Vermont’s trail network.

At his weekly press briefing, Governor Phil Scott generally praised passage of the House bill, but lamented that only $20 million was dedicated to pension relief. The state has an unfunded pension and retiree health benefit obligation to state employees and teachers of $5.7 billion.

Scott said: "$20 million is not going to fix the problem." 

He said the state cannot afford "to kick the can down the road." Scott said the state's bond rating already has been lowered in part because of the pension issue. If the bonding rate goes down, the cost of borrowing money goes up, he said.

Scott it will take leadership and effort by all parties -- the administration the Legislature, the state treasurer and the state employees and teachers unions -- in order to find a resolution.

"We can't force this. We're just going to have to work together and be realistic about what we can do and what we can't do. But I know this is gong to have an effect on our bonding ability in the future," he said.

"This is truly, truly an area of great concern," Scott said.

Source: Montpelier, Vt. – Speaker Jill Krowinski 2.26.2021