Vt. lawmakers to address Scott stimulus plan next week

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont lawmakers and thousands of businesses are poring over details of Gov. Phil Scott's $400 million stimulus plan to jump-start the economy. State leaders are hoping to dispense some of the funds immediately, as well as invest in long-term projects, but the clock is ticking to get the money out the door.

Administration officials are looking for rapid legislative approval of the governor's $400 million proposal to salvage the Vermont economy, but lawmakers still have a lot of details to work out to get the aid to those who need it most.

"Putting money into their hands to invest in them is an excellent start," said Betsy Bishop with the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, who applauds the governor's plan.

It includes $250 million for businesses and agriculture, $50 million for housing and $90 million for long-term investments.

The state expects thousands of restaurants, hotels, tourism-related businesses and many others to apply.

"Anybody who's been injured -- that's a lot of businesses," Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said.

She says the state is planning on expediting the applications so people aren't left waiting for cash like with the Department of Labor's recent backlog of unemployment benefits. They will use the Department of Taxes and Agency of Agriculture, along with state and local economic development associations, to process and disburse payments.

"So they can take in that quantity and they can also disburse a large quantity at once. That's how we're trying to stem the tide of a large bottleneck," Goldstein said.

But not everyone will be eligible for help. Though the package is aimed at the hardest-hit sectors, Bishop says Vermonters who got help through federal programs may not be eligible for the state package.

"We think that's wrong thinking. We believe there is a way to be able to allow both of these things to happen because the federal relief isn't designed for everybody. And just because you accessed it doesn't mean that you've fixed the problem for that business," she said.

But the clock is ticking. Federal rules give Vermont until the end of the year to spend the cash. Add the time it takes to roll out the proposed housing and broadband projects and that puts a time crunch on lawmakers and the administration. Top lawmakers say it's a delicate balance between getting money out the door to those who need it and investing in the future.

"Four-hundred million is a huge sum of money and we want to make sure we're spending it right and that we don't regret that we didn't take a little bit more time to get it right," said Senate President Tim Ashe, D- Chittenden County.

There are still details of the plan that will have to be worked out such as how the money will be distributed fairly and exactly how much each business will receive. Lawmakers will review the proposal starting next week.