MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has announced a $400 million proposal to help those economically affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
At his regular Wednesday news conference, the governor said his proposal would need to be approved by lawmakers in order to go forward, but the hope is to get the funds to people as quickly as possible.
In mid-March, Scott ordered the shutdown of all nonessential businesses and closed schools in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. He’s been slowly opening the economy back up since mid-April, but he acknowledged damage had already been done.
“I know this has been a significant sacrifice for far too many. Families who struggle with unemployment and businesses and entrepreneurs across the state who’ve seen their world and dreams evaporate right before their eyes through no fault of their own,” the governor said.
So Scott said he has a plan to spend $400 million of the $1.25 billion the state received from the Federal CARES Act to help those financially impacted by the virus that causes COVID-19. The economic relief sees $310 million going to immediate needs. That includes $250 million for financial assistance in the form of grants and loans for food and accommodation services, retail, agriculture and small businesses. The proposal calls for $50 million for housing assistance which would be used to pay landlords with tenants who have had issues paying their rent and to help house those who are homeless. It also includes $5 million for technical assistance to support the mental health and well-being of business owners and their families. And there is $5 million for marketing “to promote Vermont to Vermonters” that will include a toolkit of assets to promote local spending.
The governor said this is phase one of the economic relief effort. The remaining $90 million of the $400 million proposed Wednesday would be phase two, and involves long-term recovery investments. Scott said more information about that phase will be announced in the coming weeks.
“I look forward to working with the Legislature to move these initiatives forward. They have been committed throughout this pandemic to move quickly to help Vermonters and together we can make a real difference,” he said.
Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the state Agency of Commerce, said Wednesday’s proposal was the state’s first “punch back” at the virus.
“The storm is not over, but this is our first collective step toward repairing economic bridges and ensuring the survival of our business community,” Kurrle said.
She said state officials have been in contact with businesses and community leaders and collected impact data from those businesses. She said the state has also been consulting with associations, trade groups and legislators when forming this proposal.
One of those in the business world the state has been consulting with is Thomas Lauzon, the former Barre mayor and a certified public accountant. Lauzon is a member of the task force the governor created to help the state’s economy through the pandemic.
He thanked business owners who have reached out to the task force on some level.
“For so many of them, we know this is by far the worst financial event their business has ever experienced. They’ve shown incredible grace and determination will under enormous financial pressure. And their attitude really inspires us,” Lauzon said.
He said while they might not have been named directly, every sector of the business community is included under these assistance programs. He said every business has been impacted by the pandemic on some level, some more than others.
“Our challenge is to provide the right level of technical and financial assistance to all affected businesses and to preserve the economic infrastructure that is the very backbone of Vermont’s cities and towns,” he said.
The governor is expected to continue his “turn of the spigot” by again relaxing restrictions at Friday’s news conference. The easing of restrictions will likely focus on the health care field as well as close-contact jobs, such as salons and barber shops and an allowance of outside seating at restaurants.