Businesses urge Vt. Legislature to expedite $400M stimulus package

Published: Jun. 2, 2020 at 4:43 PM EDT
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Two weeks after Vermont Gov. Phil Scott unveiled a $400 million stimulus plan, lawmakers are still hammering out the details. And some in the business community say they aren't moving fast enough to get cash out the door to those who need it.

"We're hearing daily from friends of ours in the industry that are scared about being open at all," said Jed Davis, the owner of the Farmhouse Group, which includes seven Vermont restaurants that used to employ over 200 people.

He's opening up soon but is concerned about the mounting costs to bring his businesses back to life. "We have to onboard staff again -- which I'm thrilled to do -- but it's an expense nonetheless. We have to replenish our inventories, we have to pay off vendors that are waiting to get paid from previous bills," Davis said.

He and other business owners are calling on the Legislature to act quickly on the governor's economic stimulus package introduced last week and which they say would give them more flexibility in using the cash. The sweeping plan calls for a direct cash infusion of $250 million to businesses and agriculture, $50 million for housing and $90 million for long-term investments.

Lawmakers are still poring over the proposal, which accounts for about a third of Vermont's $1.25 billion of federal CARES Act cash.

Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden County, says it's too soon to tell what changes the House and Senate will make to the proposal. "Some people say we don't have as much money as the governor proposed, other people say the governor's proposal is not enough money. The amount of the money hasn't been fully decided on yet," he said.

Though the plan is designed to help just about every business in Vermont, there are some restrictions. If a business already received help from federal programs such as a PPP loan, they can't use the state money for the same reason.

"We have to figure out a good streamlined way to make sure that it happens to ensure compliance but not to hold people up and not leave people out," Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said.

But lawmakers have to act quickly. The state only has until the end of the year to spend the CARES Act funds. As businesses reopen and employers like Jed Davis re-hire more workers, he hopes help will be available for them to help the state's interconnected tourism economy thrive. "We're really hoping that the state makes the grants available to the widest range of applicants possible, including businesses that have taken advantage of PPP are still eligible for state help because they need them," Davis said.

The economic package still has to pass through the appropriations process in both the House and the Senate, but lawmakers say they hope to see votes by the middle of next week.

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