Vt. unemployment still high: Scott prepares economic recovery proposals

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 6:30 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Unemployment claims across the country are up as states have rolled out more COVID restrictions. Vermont is also seeing thousands of new claims, but the numbers tell a different story.

Last week, just over 25,000 filed for unemployment which is an increase of about 4,000 since the beginning of the year. But state labor officials say that’s because of seasonal businesses like construction, landscaping, and painting, that lay off their workers every year. And more are eligible for extended benefits because of the new federal relief package. They predict that Vermont will plateau at this unemployment level for the next few months until the weather warms up and more Vermonters are vaccinated.

“This is an important reminder that we are not through the woods,” said Mathew Barewicz with the Vermont Department of Labor. “Even though we are a lot better off than when we were doing 70,000 claims, 25,000 is a lot lower than that. But that’s still a lot of Vermonters in an economic situation that is not particularly good for them.”

Though many are still out of work, officials say there are businesses in manufacturing and retail that are hiring, and that the state hosts webinars to connect Vermonters with jobs. And as the pandemic continues to impact Vermont’s workforce, the Scott administration is ironing out several proposals to the Legislature to get the economy back on track.

Leaders with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development briefed lawmakers on Thursday, saying it all starts with more business support for restaurants and hospitality. Governor Scott however, says the newest relief package passed from Congress does not include any direct stimulus payments for businesses like the CARES Act did in the spring. But they are also targeting stimulus for businesses who missed out on grants and PPP loans for businesses that opened in mid-February of last year. They also want more investments in tourism and marketing, especially with ski areas to regain the market share that they lost to mountains in New Hampshire and Maine.

The state also has plans to reinvest in fixing up apartments and homes, revitalizing downtowns, along with Act 250 reform and tax credits.

Under the plan, the ‘Everyone Eats’ program, which pays restaurants to feed Vermonters with local ingredients, is slated for a reboot. The Scott administration is working on a proposal to fund it through the rest of the state of emergency.

It’s unclear how Democrats will respond to the specific proposals, but Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County, said Thursday that he has instructed staff to draft several bills that are identical to some of the governor’s.

It’s unclear how much much these specific proposals will cost, but the governor maintains that it can be done without raising taxes, and instead growing businesses organically through stimulus. Much of last year’s budget was supported by federal Cares Act money, and the state can expect some of this coming budget to be supported by the new relief package.

Governor Scott will outline some of these proposals in his budget address on Tuesday the 26th.

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