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Applications open for next round of Vt. hazard pay grants

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 8:14 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 28, 2020 at 8:08 PM EDT
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The state of Vermont Wednesday opened applications for millions more in hazard pay available to frontline workers who didn’t qualify before. This round of grants expands the different types of employees who are eligible, including grocery store workers.

On the day of the grand opening of Healthy Living’s new store in Williston, their third storefront in 35 years, the local grocery store’s leaders say they are helping as many employees as possible get hazard pay funding made available in Vermont. “We did submit right at the opening bell,” said the store’s CEO, Eli Lesser-Goldsmith. “Staff at places like grocery stores, pharmacies are really some of the biggest heroes in the world right now.”

Seventy of his Healthy Living “heroes” are eligible for this round of federal funding through the Frontline Employee Hazard Pay Grant Program. Eligible employees must have worked between March 13 and May 15 for at least 68 hours. They also need to make less than $25 an hour. The state will distribute the $22 million on a first-come, first-served basis and each person will receive between $1,200 and $2,000.

The new benefits target frontline who worked before plastic barriers and masks were the norm in stores. Employees like Healthy Living Williston general manager Mike Membrino.

“We’ve chosen not to stay home. We’re at high risk, and if we do have to stay at home, we’re not on unemployment and there’s nothing to collect. So, having that as a buffer is crucial,” Membrino said.

Businesses say the compensation for grocery store workers is long overdue and the fact that only some employees will receive the funds is frustrating. “Every viewer out there is frustrated by certain elements of what’s gone on over the past few months, but I’m also trying to be thankful and appreciative for what is available,” Lesser-Goldsmith said.

In March, April, and May, Healthy Living paid out-of-pocket to raise all 70 employees' hourly rate by $2. “We can keep looking to evolve and take care of more and more people as time goes on, but this is a really helpful piece that I think is going to go a really long way for some of those people that really need the help,” Lesser-Goldsmith said.

“Hopefully we get it, because our staff -- they really deserve it,” Membrino said.

In the meantime, Healthy Living leaders say they’re focusing on ensuring their 65 new hires at the new Williston store feel safe and supported. “One silver lining of COVID for us in this industry is that it’s brought all of us together, and it’s just been the most supportive group of people to work with that I’ve ever had in my life,” Membrino said.

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