Our extraordinary 2020 Vermont Legislative session recessed for eight weeks Friday night, June 26 just after 9 p.m. Distinguished by our mid-March pivot to dealing with Vermont’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which hit the United States full force, this Legislative Session has been memorable. And, it is not over. We still have much to do to finish our work. So, we will reconvene in late August to pick things back up. For the first time, in light of so many fiscal uncertainties, the Legislature passed a Quarter 1 fiscal year 2021 budget which finances state government through September. The rest of Vermont’s FY21 budget will need to be finished, along with the work we left on the shelf while we turned our attention to Vermont’s immediate COVID needs. In the mean time, we all hope that the federal government will pass additional much needed financial aid for the states and municipal governments.
Between mid-March and the end of June, the primary business of the Legislature was responding to the COVID crisis – working to relieve the financial disruption so many people and businesses faced and to facilitate the functioning of state and municipal government while the “stay safe, stay home” emergency order was in place. Before we could get to work effectively, we needed to figure out how to do the state’s legislative business remotely. We had to change several laws to allow state and local government to meet and vote remotely, and to use a web platform to comply with our open meeting laws.
Helping Vermonters weather this crisis required considerable legislation. From staying evictions and foreclosures, to expanding eligibility for unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation, expanding telehealth, deferring tax payments, allowing for increased flexibility in municipal and state government procedures, extending all varieties of license renewals, to deploying student nurses early, to using our recently retired doctors to help with this crisis – we helped alleviate burdens and remove barriers to carrying on many essential activities. With our housing partners, Vermont managed to feed and house close to 2,000 homeless and keep them healthy and safe.
On the money side, the Legislature has approved spending almost $1 billion of Vermont’s $1.25 billion federal CARES Act money. The first phase of spending was directed to meet the needs of the initial health care emergency. The second phase has just been completed with the Legislature allocating over $740 million in Economic Stabilization and Recovery financial assistance. This was a challenge as the federal guidelines for these expenditures were slow to evolve and narrow. All the money has to be spent by Dec. 30 – and who the money can be spent on is very specific. In two waves, we rolled out help to a wide range of Vermont’s neediest sectors including: businesses, farms, health care, affordable housing, broadband expansion, childcare, higher education, elder care, hazard bonuses, the food bank, and rental assistance.
Sadly, there isn’t enough money to make everyone whole. But we hope that this assistance, coupled with the over $1 billion Vermont businesses have secured through the Paycheck Protection Program, the hundreds of millions of dollars Vermonters have received in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments, and low interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans, will help keep as many as possible afloat long enough to get through this crisis. Our objective has been to roll out as much relief as possible. However, the Legislature has reserved about $250 million for unanticipated and emerging needs.
There is so much to unpack in this experience of the last four months. Space allows me to begin with this summary. And in the next few weeks, I will be writing about specific actions we took to address this extraordinary moment in history.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 802-457-4627.
Sen. Alison Clarkson