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

Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

Posted by Jack Hoffman on May 29, 2020 at 10:46 am | Comments Off on Hope for the best, but plan for the worst

Health comes first. But the next biggest risk Vermonters face from the coronavirus pandemic is loss of income. As leaders in Montpelier contemplate the best uses for $1.25 billion in federal aid from the Coronavirus Relief Fund, insuring that Vermont families continue to have money for food and shelter has to be at the top of the list.

Until last week, the weekly reports on new claims for unemployment benefits were about the only data we had on what the coronavirus was doing to the state’s economy. Now we’re starting to get more numbers.

Cutting school funding now is a bad idea

Posted by Stephanie Yu on May 20, 2020 at 12:13 pm | * Comments (1)

If there’s anything that has become clear in this pandemic, it’s just how important schools are to Vermont families.

School staff are feeding kids, providing online instruction, helping connect kids to resources that they need—everything they always do and then some, but under much more challenging circumstances.

And with schools working to reach kids who don’t have broadband access and continuing to meet students’ special education needs, they need more funding, not less.


Money, money everywhere, but not a lot to spend

Posted by Jack Hoffman on May 12, 2020 at 3:51 pm | * Comments (2)

Vermont’s April revenue collections highlight the absurdity of federal rules restricting the use of the Coronavirus Relief Fund—the $150 billion that Congress appropriated in the CARES Act to help the states.

The state’s personal income tax receipts dropped by two-thirds last month. Instead of taking in $184 million, as forecast, the tax department received $63 million. But according to the latest guidance Vermont can’t use its federal relief funds to close that gap—to pay for the programs and services that would have been covered by the $121 million the state didn’t collect.

Federal COVID aid helps, but it may not be enough to see Vermonters through

Posted by Stephanie Yu on May 6, 2020 at 1:11 pm | * Comments (1)

During the first month of the pandemic, Congress scrambled to pass multiple aid packages aimed at helping states and individuals prepare for and respond to the crisis. But whether that will be enough to meet Vermonters’ needs is anyone’s guess.

The packages approved in Washington include increased unemployment benefits, limited paid leave, funds to hospitals and other medical providers, and one-time direct payments to low- and moderate-income individuals, as well as additional program dollars for child care subsidies, education, community development, and other priorities. To date, Vermont’s small businesses have taken more than $1 billion in Small Business Administration loans that may be forgiven if they keep their employees on payroll for the two months following receipt of the loan.

Don’t hurt kids in the name of “fairness”

Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 27, 2020 at 11:36 am | * Comments (4)

It’s too early to have a clear picture of how Vermont should allocate the $1.25 billion it received last week from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. But a fully funded, fully functioning public education system has to be a top priority.

We’ve already heard demands that “schools need to share the economic pain” caused by the coronavirus crisis. At first blush, that sounds like a reasonable appeal to a sense of fairness. But it won’t be schools that pay the price if we start cutting education funding. It will be children, who already are going to miss about a third of this school year. Are we really going to ask third graders or high school sophomores to “share the pain” by giving up part of their education next year too? Are we prepared to tell them they need to do more with less education?