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Vermont lawmakers work to finalize $500M funding plan

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 16, 2020 at 5:59 PM EDT
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Vermont lawmakers this week are putting the finishing touches on getting $500 million out the door to struggling businesses, hospitals and farms. Legislators will temporarily adjourn next Friday. Our Calvin Cutler reports on what they want to get done before then.

The House Appropriations Committee is working around the clock this week to get federal stimulus money out the door for people who need it. But some in the business community still say the Legislature's plan doesn't go far enough and that they would have gotten more under the governor's proposal.

Peter MacLaren is the co-owner of the West Hill House Bed & Breakfast in Warren. Like thousands of businesses, COVID-19 punctured a hole in his revenues and brought business to a screeching halt.

"Understandably, we have a very strict quarantine in place in Vermont which limits significantly the number of guests that can stay with us. So we've been three months with no revenue and we're now looking at another summer with very limited revenue," MacLaren said.

Economic stimulus coming down the pike this week from the Legislature would give $80 million to businesses like MacLaren's who saw a 75% reduction in sales compared to the same period last year.

This is on top of $93 million passed last week-- both dollar amounts Gov. Phil Scott says are not enough.

Also, the Legislature is teeing up around $140 million for hospitals and providers who lost revenue during the pandemic-- again, short of what the governor wants.

So far, lawmakers have allocated $300 million of the $1.25 billion CARES Act.

"I can't think of a time where a Legislature or a governor moved $100 million in grants to business owners in just a few days," said Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Senate President Pro Tem.

Ashe says lawmakers plan to hold back some of the funds because we may need it for a second COVID-19 wave or to fill gaps in the state budget if the feds change the guidance.

"If we spend all of the money immediately, there's nothing for the Vermont State Colleges System, there's nothing for child care, there's nothing for nutrition for kids throughout the summer," Ashe said.

Lawmakers are also waiting to see if more stimulus money will make its way to Vermont from the feds. But with the Legislature adjourning late next week, MacLaren says businesses can't wait for the cash to come their way.

"We're very disappointed that the Legislature couldn't take the governor's first proposal and put it in the first round," he said.

After lawmakers approve the package later this week, Scott is expected to sign the stimulus package into law. Though the package working its way through the Legislature isn't what he wanted, he says the best way to distribute the funds was to work across the aisle with the Democratic supermajority.

"The reality is that we need them. We need them to stay until we disburse the money. These are difficult times. This certainly didn't come at an appropriate time for anyone," said Scott, R-Vermont.

After they take a several-week break starting next Friday, lawmakers will return to the virtual Statehouse in mid-August after state economists present updated revenue figures.

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