Vt. lawmakers consider $200M workforce package
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - President Joe Biden Friday touted a record drop in unemployment and a surge in job growth, crediting his economic plan for an unemployment rate now below four percent and the addition of six-point-four million jobs to the economy last year. In Vermont, the challenge is too many unfilled jobs and lawmakers are now looking at nearly $200 million in immediate housing and workforce investments.
In his State of the State address Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott outlined a flurry of proposals to bolster Vermont’s workforce through training, housing, and COVID relief cash. A budget surplus could jumpstart some of those efforts long before the state budget is passed later this spring.
“When your cut is bleeding, the first thing you do is stop it from bleeding, then you make longer term changes when you have the time,” said Vt. Finance Commissioner Adam Greshin.
Fueled by federal cash and state tax revenues, the governor wants to spend up to $200 million as part of the budget adjustment, a mid-year change to the state budget. It would include:
- $80 million for housing.
- $50 million to pay down debt.
- $30 million in health care recruitment incentives.
- $25 million for more step-down hospital beds.
Lawmakers say they are digging into the numbers. “This was really important to get this started, to get money out the door,” said Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury.
That process will include gathering public testimony from organizations still reeling from the pandemic.
“On behalf of all of our students, we ask that you address the budget deficits due to COVID,” said Brian Kravitz with Central Vermont Adult Basic Education.
“We need an investment for our workforce, a flexible investment so each agency can use it for recruitment,” said Julie Tessler with Vermont Care Partners.
Lawmakers may not support all of the proposals, but Rep. Stevens says any money for housing will help. “People need to have a home that they can call their own and it doesn’t matter what income level they’re at. If we can get them there and they can make Vermont home, then we all win,” he said.
Whatever form the surplus takes, Greshin warns about using the money to fund new programs. “On the one hand, it’s been pleasing to have the ability to make investments and make appropriations in a million years that I thought we wouldn’t be able to do. On the other hand, I’m sober enough to know that we’re going to have to repay this,” Greshin said
Lawmakers are looking to act on this cash within the month.
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