Applications now open for Vt. businesses applying for stimulus money

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 12:38 PM EDT
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Vermont business owners hurt by the pandemic can apply for state grants of up to $50,000 starting Monday. But for some of those businesses that are not eligible, the future remains murky.

Like many businesses in Vermont's tourism and hospitality sector, the Moose River Campground In Saint Johnsbury has had a rough year. In May, owner Mary Lunderville says revenues were down 99%. "The fourth of July was good, but we weren't full. First time in 20 years we weren't full," she said.

Starting Monday, state officials opened online applications for the $150 million Economic Recovery Grants program, an effort to keep about 20,000 struggling businesses stay afloat. From the beginning, officials have said the grants won't help all of Vermont's 70,000 small businesses.

Lunderville says the grant could be a lifeline, but that she was denied because she's a sole proprietor.

But Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein says there's a carve-out in the program with money set aside for women and minority-owned businesses such as Lunderville's, but she admits it's difficult to determine who receives what.

It's difficult to take the full amount of the money and divide by everyone who needs it -- everyone would probably get a less than meaningful amount. But anywhere we turn there is going to be a constraint that somebody may not be able to get the full help that they need," she said.

Governor Phil Scott originally wanted $100 million more to go towards the business grant program, but has said even that won't be enough to meet the need.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is still holding aside some $140 million of CARES Act funding for the fall in case there's a second wave of COVID-19 with more layoffs.

Some in business community say that help is needed now to keep businesses from going under. "We would really like to see when the Legislature returns in August, the Legislature and the administration taking a look at that money in reserve and hopefully putting more of that out to businesses for economic relief," said Charles Martin with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

Lunderville agrees. She's concerned about what the fall foliage season will bring. "I've got a feeling there's going to be a lot of us small businesses that it's going to go down the tubes," she said.