Fiscal 2021 budget provides some help to Vermonters left behind

Posted by Julie Lowell on October 8, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Comments Off on 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 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.

Vermont’s unemployment rate riddle

Posted by Paul Cillo on September 23, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Comments Off on Vermont’s unemployment rate riddle

Q: When is a drop in the unemployment rate bad news?

A:  When people are leaving the labor force rather than going back to work.

The official monthly employment numbers for August were released last Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Vermont’s reported unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent in July to 4.8 percent in August.

That would normally be great news. Fewer unemployed means more people have gone back to work, right?

Testimony follow up: Vermont Tax Structure Commission

Posted by Sarah Lyons on September 14, 2020 at 10:53 am | Comments Off on Testimony follow up: Vermont Tax Structure Commission

September 11, 2020

Vermont Tax Structure Commission

Re: Follow up to August 31 testimony

Dear Commissioners:

Thank you for inviting me and our deputy director Stephanie Yu to your meeting last week. We appreciated the opportunity to review with you some of the key reasons we believe that eliminating the school property tax on primary residences is good public policy and how making this change would create a fairer, simpler school funding system for voters and taxpayers.

I want to review and expand on some points that were addressed at the August 31 meeting:

Balanced budget can’t make up for lost federal aid

Posted by Jack Hoffman on September 10, 2020 at 3:17 pm | Comments Off on Balanced budget can’t make up for lost federal aid

Dithering in Washington has left a lot of states scrambling to figure out how to pay for the support and services their citizens desperately need. In Vermont, Washington’s paralysis means the Legislature will have just over a month to determine whether the $7.1 billion budget Gov. Phil Scott proposed for the current fiscal year will be adequate to get Vermonters, including individuals and businesses who have seen federal support dry up, through the coronavirus pandemic. In a normal year, House and Senate committees spend four or five months taking testimony, negotiating, and deliberating on appropriations bills.

Complete the Census, fight COVID-19

Posted by Julie Lowell on August 12, 2020 at 11:37 am | * Comments (1)

Time is running out! Vermonters only have a month and a half to complete the 2020 Census, and we’re way behind.

Vermonters need to be counted because of the importance of Census data. Census population and poverty counts determine how much federal money many Vermont programs receive. Given increased need due to COVID-19, and the economic uncertainty of state revenues, federal funding is crucial for Vermont’s physical and economic health. Population estimates have already determined an influx of assistance for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; emergency food and shelter; and childcare and elementary and secondary schools. For COVID-19 testing and tracing alone this has meant $65 million for Vermont, supporting over 100,000 people being tested.

Some help for some essential workers

Posted by Stephanie Yu on August 6, 2020 at 1:01 pm | * Comments (1)

It took a little while, but Vermont’s Front-Line Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program opened for applications this week.

The $28 million program will provide grants from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund to qualified employers to provide $1,200 or $2,000 in hazard pay to certain frontline workers, depending on how much they worked. The money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

The program covers some workers in public safety, public health, human services and health care who:

  • had elevated risk of exposure to COVID-19;
  • earn less than $25 an hour; and
  • worked at least 68 hours between March 13th and May 15th.

Vote in the August 11 primary

Posted by Stephanie Yu on July 23, 2020 at 10:23 am | Comments Off on Vote in the August 11 primary

It’s summer in Vermont. And despite the pandemic, we can still do some of the things we usually do this time of the year: go for a hike, hit a bike trail, go to a swimming hole. These activities might look a little different: more masks, for one thing, smaller groups for another, and socially-distanced lines waiting for creemees. And there’s one more summer activity that will look a little different this year: Vermont’s August 11 primary.

Back in June, the Legislature worked with the Secretary of State to pass legislation making voting by mail available to all Vermonters for the November general election. And this week, Secretary Condos announced that all registered voters will be automatically sent ballots for the November election.

The August primary looks a little different. Rather than sending all voters a ballot, registered Vermonters should have received a postcard asking if they would like to request a ballot by mail.

Federal aid helped, and more will be needed

Posted by Jack Hoffman on July 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm | Comments Off on Federal aid helped, and more will be needed

The federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) pumped $1.19 billion into the Vermont economy in April, May, and June to help employers hang onto nearly 114,000 jobs during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. To put that in perspective, in normal times Vermont has about 315,000 non-farm payroll jobs, and the state’s total output of goods and services in a three-month period is about $8.7 billion.

The money provided through the Paycheck Protection Program came in the form of loans administered by local banks, credit unions, or other lenders. Some or all of a loan can be forgiven if the business meets certain criteria for retaining employees and maintaining salaries. We don’t know yet how much of this money will eventually become a grant to Vermont businesses and their employees.

Full-service restaurants and their employees were perhaps hit hardest by the business closures ordered in the early days of the pandemic. Vermont businesses in that industry make up the largest group that turned to the Paycheck Protection Program for help, according to new, nationwide loan data released by the Small Business Administration this week.

Open letter on federal pandemic relief funds

Posted by Paul Cillo on June 10, 2020 at 1:02 pm | Comments Off on Open letter on federal pandemic relief funds

June 10, 2020

Dear Member of the Vermont General Assembly:

As you build a plan to spend the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) monies that were allocated to Vermont, we hope you will use some basic guidelines in your decision making.

Vermonters are struggling. These funds, as with all state revenues, should be first and foremost used to meet the needs of the people of Vermont and to create a Vermont that works for everyone. Rather than focusing on what the federal rules permit, we urge the Legislature and administration to focus on what Vermonters need. It is likely that the federal rules for use of CRF money will change, maybe even this month, to allow greater flexibility, especially the ability to use the funds to backfill for the loss of state revenue resulting from the pandemic. And there may be additional federal funds coming to Vermont.

Even if the funds in the initial allocation cannot be used for certain purposes, we urge you to list all the needs you see, so that if and when funding criteria are broadened or more funding is available, other needs can be addressed.

‘A riot is the language of the unheard’

Posted by Paul Cillo on June 2, 2020 at 1:01 pm | * Comments (4)

The national unrest of the last week has added a layer of pain to what many Vermonters were already experiencing during the pandemic: economic hardship, inequitable access to public resources and health care, and the stress of being isolated from family and friends. Read more