More hazard pay coming for Vermont essential workers

The next round of hazard pay grants for essential workers in Vermont is coming, with applications opening Wednesday, October 28.
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 7:23 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 23, 2020 at 7:34 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Friday reported 28 new cases of the coronavirus overnight, one of the highest single-day counts since the summer. And as cases continue to rise, the state is making millions more in hazard pay grants available to frontline workers.

The grants from the Frontline Employee Hazard Pay Grant Program expand the types of employers who are eligible. There are 26 fields that are now open for the $22 million, including grocery stores, funeral homes, and essential child care, among others. Eligible employees had to work between March 13 and May 15 and have hit 68 hours. They also need to make less than $25 an hour, with some exceptions. It’s a first-come, first-served basis, and the state expects the money to run out with a high demand.

“We really do anticipate that there will be significant interest in this program since there’s more employers and less money. We also anticipate that the money will be committed faster very quickly,” said DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak Friday.

The new benefits are aimed at helping employees who showed up to work before masks and plastic barriers were the norm.

“A lot of this will just be compensating people for the additional expenses they incurred. Groceries got more expensive, transportation was a lot harder to figure out, child care was harder,” said Gail Daha, the manager of Greg’s Meat Market in Middlebury.

Some grocery store owners we spoke with say some of their workers won’t be eligible for the time they closed down to retrofit PPE into the stores.

Employers are encouraged to attend a webinar on Monday, October 26 at 3 p.m. to learn more about the program. A link to the webinar can be found on the Hazard Pay Grant Program website.

Meanwhile, the state is tracking several ongoing COVID-19 clusters in schools, workplaces, and communities. Dr. Levine says the central Vermont hockey outbreak is now up to 43 cases. A total of 28 new COVID-19 cases were reported statewide as of Friday and half of those are associated with three outbreaks -- central Vermont hockey, the wedding at Boyden Farm in Cambridge, and the St. Michael’s College cluster.

“When initial exposures have spread to people at home and then go often when asymptomatic to school college work or to visit friends family or neighbors,” Levine said.

And in light of new guidance from the CDC redefining close contact, Levine says schools will face greater scrutiny when it comes to contact tracing.

The governor said none of those outbreaks are on the level that the state would implement new regulations. “We’re in a pretty good position, but we have to pay attention. We’ll make changes as needed but we’re not anticipating any huge changes,” he said.

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