MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Governor Phil Scott Wednesday announced a $400 million stimulus package he is proposing for businesses hit by the coronavirus.
The two-month shutdown of Vermont's economy has pummeled nearly every business sector. Even as some people are getting back to work, many businesses remain shuttered, hemorrhaging cash, laying off employees, or closing for good.
"I know you're all scared, sad, and probably pretty angry," Scott said.
If approved by lawmakers, Scott said the federal aid made possible by the CARES Act will arrive in two phases. He says $310 million will be an immediate, direct infusion to sectors of the economy that are still struggling. Of that, $250 million is earmarked for grants and loans for small businesses, restaurants, the tourism sector, and agriculture. There's also $50 million for housing assistance, including money for landlords and renters. It also includes $10 million for a marketing campaign and technical assistance to help businesses navigate these programs.
In phase two of the plan, the state is rolling out $90 million for longer term investments including broadband, housing for vulnerable populations, workforce training, and community recovery grants.
State officials say the first phase of spending is aimed mostly at industries not yet re-started and that have not benefited from earlier programs, like restaurants, retail stores, lodging, farms and nonprofits.
"Like rent, mortgage payments, utilities, inventory, or other essential operating expenses," said Vt. Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle.
For those who have shut their doors or are on the brink of closure who think a grant can save their business, state officials encourage them to apply. Administration leaders admit it's an ambitious plan.
"If there was ever a time to make these investments it is now. We are facing extraordinary challenges and we need extraordinary measures to rebuild Vermont," said Vt. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein.
Scott says the stimulus is the next step to restoring our economy and workforce to pre-COVID times. "We see some hope, we see some light at the end of the tunnel. We hope to get people back in business and we hope to have more people coming into the state," he said.
Governor Scott says he's working with lawmakers to approve the plan within a week. As soon as the Legislature gives the green light, business owners can start receiving cash.
BUSINESSES REACT TO STIMULUS PROPOSAL
Some businesses say they may not ever be able to re-open, but others told Channel 3's Dom Amato that anything helps.
"I don't know anybody that's not -- no matter how big or how small they are -- that's not chewing their nails right now," said Mickey West, the owner of Red Onion Cafe on Burlington's Church Street.
She says business at the cafe is far below normal. The first month of the pandemic the restaurant saw an almost 60% drop in sales. "These are the months that we make enough money to get us through the winter," West said.
But she isn't sure that will be the case this summer. West will receive funds from the federal PPP loan, but at least 75% of that must go towards payroll. She's looking forward to applying for the state grants or loans and hopes they'll be less restrictive. "My landlord has been really good about the rent but ultimately, it has to be paid," she said.
"We're really hoping that can happen fairly quickly," said Shawn Shouldice, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The group has nearly 1,000 small business members in Vermont and Shouldice says the stimulus money is a welcome plan that could help bridge the gap as the PPP loans run out and doors begin to open. "There are a lot of costs associated with reopening these businesses and there are no funds for it, there's no revenue coming in for these businesses."
She's hopeful clear guidance and stipulations are put in place for businesses and that the money can make its way from state government to businesses sooner than later.
"If there wasn't too many barriers to getting that money, then yes, I would try to look into it," said Julia Kent the owner of Rhoan, a women's clothing boutique in Winooski. She also received a PPP loan but it's almost gone. With retail now slowly reopening, she is now preparing to rely on customer revenue. "My focus at the moment is just getting the brick and mortar business back open."
And that's the most important thing according to the NFIB's Shouldice -- getting the doors open and bringing in customers. She says for small businesses to survive, Vermonters need to take the necessary safety precautions and spend their money locally.