The last day that I and my fellow House colleagues set foot in the House Chamber was Friday, March 13. Since then, for over three months, the 150-member House has conducted business from our homes with Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson insisting we continue to wear proper business attire while Zooming, which for me meant a jacket and tie.
It didn’t take long for the COVID-19 pandemic issues to take top priority. Vermont’s allotment from the Federal CARES Act was $1.25 billion, all of which must be spent by the end of the year and be used exclusively for relief from pandemic losses. Over the past three months, we managed to move nearly $1 billion worth of Corona Relief Funds to Vermont communities, including over $235 million for businesses, farms, and nonprofits who have suffered significant losses. The combined $1 billion investment is the largest Emergency Recovery Program ever passed by the Vermont Legislature.
Eighty-five million dollars will be direct aid to Vermonters. It includes $5 million for foreclosure protection; $25 million for eviction protection; $38 million for rehousing initiatives and housing grants. The Vermont Foodbank receives $4.7 million, while summer meals programs get $12 million. Millions more will shore up schools, childcare, parent child centers, and our health care system. Monies will also support our farms, working lands, state colleges, and UVM.
The House also approved a Senate bill that would make it easier for those in high-risk jobs to get workers’ compensation. And we also took action to establish a Vote-by-Mail system for the November General Election.
Not all of the House’s activities were directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic. H.955, the Capital bill, will be a $60 million stimulus for the construction and trades industry as we begin to restart the economy.
And in our last week of the session, we unanimously supported a bill that would ban police from using choke holds and mandate all state troopers to wear body cameras, while committing us to start dismantling systemic and structural racism.
One other bill that had to be passed by the House before we recessed was the budget for the first financial quarter of 2021. The Q1 budget’s purpose is to keep the basics of government functioning through the first quarter, which runs from July 1 through Sept. 30, 2020. It will finance the Education Fund at 100% and also appropriate $50 million from the CRF to cover pandemic costs for pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
But while we have recessed, we are not adjourned. We are scheduled to return Aug. 25 after we have a more complete picture of where the state’s finances and potential federal assistance stand. Hopefully in August, we will be in a better position to build a full year budget for FY-2021 and appropriate the remaining $250 million of the $1.25 billion CARES Act allotment. But make no mistake, it will require pulling back fiscally, resulting in substantial reductions.
Please reach out to me if you need support connecting to relief resources or have any questions or feedback. I can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Tom Bock
Andover, Baltimore, Chester and N. Springfield