Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Fiscal 2021 budget provides some help to Vermonters left behind

Fiscal 2021 budget provides some help to Vermonters left behind

Washington scrambled to meet people’s needs as COVID-19 shutdowns began in March. Many received financial support, others did not. Those left out include low-wage, essential workers—disproportionately women and Vermonters of color—who have been hit hardest by the crisis both physically and economically.

Vermont’s Legislature and governor deserve credit for taking the pandemic seriously and working to address Vermonters’ needs during this crisis. Before taking a summer break at the end of June, the Legislature appropriated $28.0 million for the Hazard Pay Program, providing 16,000 front-line public safety and health care workers with one-time bonus pay of up to $2,000.

In September, they finished work on the state’s fiscal 2021 budget, signed by Governor Scott on October 2nd, addressing additional inequities. The budget allocates $5.0 million for the Economic Stimulus Equity Program and an additional $22.5 million to expand the Hazard Pay Program, strengthening their COVID-19 response by including more workers.

The Economic Stimulus Equity Program provides up to five thousand people with relief payments. Federal policy excluded these Vermonters because of their immigration status from getting the $1,200 stimulus payments most people received in the spring. Vermont is one of a few states that have stepped up to correct this inequity.

The Hazard Pay Program expansion will include an additional 13,000 workers who were both essential in the initial COVID-19 response and had increased exposure because of their work. With the expansion the program allocates a total of $50.5 million for essential workers including those working in grocery stores, cleaning services, trash collection, and child care.

The rest of the fiscal 2021 budget is largely business as usual. This was not a tough budget year for policy makers with the large federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) package that Vermont had at its disposal. Next year may be more challenging depending on whether and how much federal aid is made available.

If you exclude the CRF, the fiscal 2021 budget grew by three percent over the previous year. While this preserves existing state services, it does little to address badly needed investments in areas that policy makers have been putting off for years, including child care, water quality, and higher education. The budget does include an additional $24 million that the strained Vermont State College system needs to get through the current fiscal year until policy makers come up with a permanent solution. CRF provide an additional $900 million to support economic relief programs, broadband, housing, education, and other needs due to COVID-19. However, as we’ve noted before, it is unlikely that the total $7.2 billion fiscal 2021 budget will be enough to get Vermonters through the next nine months.

Vermont lawmakers have recognized the disparate impact COVID-19 has had on already struggling low-wage workers. They will need to continue to use this equity lens in the months ahead so that all Vermonters have the support they need to weather this pandemic until it is brought under control.

Posted by Julie Lowell on October 8, 2020 at 2:32 pm

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