Last week, over 3.3 million Americans filed unemployment claims, four times higher than all previous short-term filing records in U.S. history. This astronomical number was to be expected, as it reflects a national effort underway by Americans putting public health measures above all else to combat the growing pandemic of COVID-19. Collected efforts, taking place so rapidly, in such a short period of time to mitigate the spread of this virus, has led to unprecedented economic uncertainty and hardships. Our state legislature has acted, and so has Gov. Scott – and I thank them for actions undertaken so far – but they need to do more, and they need to do more now.
Vermonters no longer able to make money – through no fault of their own – need immediate fiscal help now from Montpelier. On Wednesday, March 25, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a $2 trillion-dollar stimulus package targeted to provide relief for low-income workers, industries severally impacted by the shut down, and small businesses. We are told Vermont could see $2 billion dollars in aid from Washington, D.C., and many Vermonters will be eligible for some form of federal relief. However, many do not have time to wait for a federal stimulus package to make its way north, and there is growing uncertainty as to how and when the checks from Washington, D.C. will actually reach Americans in need.
The Legislature, who can now vote on bills remotely – a smart effort to lead by example, almost thwarted by the vanity of single foolish lawmaker from Arlington – should act swiftly by remaining in “remote session” and passing legislation aimed at: protecting public health, streamling government services utilizing technology, and most importantly; delivering a fiscal shot in the arm to all Vermonters, individuals and small business owners, who need it most.
Vermonters need to put food on the table today and tomorrow, pay mortgages, rents, utility bills, buy Rx drugs, fix leaky roofs, repair cars and trucks, attempt to run their small businesses, and generally “try” to live as “normal” a life as possible; while acting responsibly to thwart the spread of this virus.
The Legislature, working with Gov. Scott, can ensure all Vermonters keep their heads above water in this time of anxiety and uncertainty. The Legislature must act to put money directly in the hands of Vermonters who are unable to work by decree of the state or those faced with the growing concern they might become infected – and pass the virus on to others increasing the spread – by going to work if they feel ill, because without a paycheck they won’t be able to buy food or provide for their families.
This is unlike any crisis we have ever faced before as a nation. Yes, as Americans, we will come out stronger on the other side. We must embrace and adopt a World War II British stiff upper lip, keep calm, practice sanitary hygiene, social distancing and carry on, but not without immediate economic aid from our lawmakers and executive action from our governor aimed at providing needed assistance to the most vulnerable amongst us. Our elected officials need to make it easier for people to do right thing, incentivizing people to stay home to slow the transmission rate of this pandemic, but we cannot ask people to simply stay home and become accomplices to their own demise, nor should we.
Our lawmakers must be attuned to the plight of Vermonters who don’t know how they’ll weather the next few weeks of a storm unlike any other we’ve ever rode out, taking place in completely uncharted, rocky waters, and act swiftly with an economic aid package akin to a lifeboat equipped with a 4-point compass:
(1) Economic relief for all low-income workers laid off; (2) the same for any employee whose job has been temporarily shut down by the state; (3) micro-targeted fiscal stimulus in the form of instant liquidity for small businesses who need a loan to stay afloat; (4) grants and tax incentives for any business (large or small) who can repurpose their outfit/business model to help produce much needed preventative protect equipment for front line medical workers who desperately need these items now more than ever. It is crucial our supply chain of this equipment move briskly into areas impacted the most, as we all depend on medical professionals and first responders who so bravely give of themselves to help others every single day, with little thanks and much risk.
Right now, the state has $230 millions dollars in reserves. If there was ever a time to tap into a “rainy day fund” in search of a rainbow on the other side, it is now. I urge the Legislature to enact a “VT Recovery Fund” aimed at all 4-compass points offering state-backed recovery loan funds for qualified individuals and small business. The Legislature should consider offering 3-year notes or 30-month amortization, forgoing payment for the first six months with an annual interest rate of 2.5% beginning in month seven in an effort to ensure all Vermonters can stay afloat and provide for their families in what has become arguably the most unprecedent global challenge our nation has ever faced.
Gov. Scott should also ramp up his response. He should, by executive order, issue temporary moratoriums on any mortgage foreclosures or non-emergency rental evictions, coupled with bans on any public utility shutoffs whereupon violators would face exorbitant fines. The governor should further instruct the Dept. of Financial Regulation and Insurance that all state lending institutions postpone foreclosures for 90 days and a refrain from reporting any late payments to credit rating agencies for 90 days.
The state can and must provide the tools to rebuild in a time when the state is asking – in many cases demanding by law – its people sacrifice so much in pursuit of the greater good for all of humanity. We must never wavier in putting the public health above short-term economic pain as difficult as it might be, as jobs and our state’s economy can and will rise again, but those killed by a pandemic virus will not.
Just as Dodge, Ford, and GM shifted production lines from cars to jeeps, tanks, and bombers in 1942, last week we saw Ford announce they would now produce much needed ventilators. We’ve also seen countless private industries immediately repurposing their American factories without being bogged down by government regulations and red tape. Other examples include the National Council of Textile Organization’s garment companies like Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Parkdale Mills, who have halted regular production to churn out millions of PPEs. The Honeywell factory in Smithfield, R.I. will now be producing N-95 masks. General Dynamics announced it will donate thousands of Tyvek suits for medical workers.
Our federal and state strategy to combat COVID-19, stabilize our economy, ensure a robust rebound as the pandemic subsides must be an all hands-on deck approach from HHS, FEMA in Washington, D.C., the CDC in Atlanta to our leaders in Montpelier, right down to the local level. There is nothing, not even an invisible killer virus, that can kill the American spirit. And there has never been anything wrong with America that could not be cured by what is right in America. Our democracy can no longer be just something that binds us all together, as it was perhaps just one month ago. It must now also be the engine of our rebirth as a nation and a people.
The alarm bell has rung and Americans have awoken and risen to the challenge. We owe great thanks to everyone in the Green Mountain State who has stepped up, acting locally to help those most in need and impacted in time where so many are faced with fear and uncertainly. Now is the time our elected leaders must rise to the challenge and deliver for Vermonters what they have asked us for in the past when they ran for office: support.