Scott Proposes $400 Million Economic Relief Package | Off Message

Scott Proposes $400 Million Economic Relief Package


  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday proposed a $400 million economic relief package to help businesses hit hard during the coronavirus crisis.

Funded by Vermont's $1.25 billion share of the federal CARES Act, the first phase of the plan would allocate $310 million for "immediate relief ... to help businesses survive," Scott said at a press conference.

"I know there's too many small-business owners who are desperate right now," Scott said. "Family businesses that have been around for decades don't see a path out of the red. I know you're all scared, sad, and probably pretty angry."

The administration will detail how the remaining $90 million would be used in the coming weeks but hinted that it could include investments in broadband, housing and employee-training programs.

The plan is far from finalized: The House and Senate both have to sign off and could significantly revise the package before doing so.

"Hopefully they'll expedite this so that we can put it in the hands of Vermonters that need it right now," Scott said.

Scott's proposal would allocate $250 million for loans and grants to businesses, including:

  • $150 million in "restart grants" to the food, accommodations, retail, and agriculture sectors for fixed costs such as rent and mortgage payments
  • $80 million in "economic injury and disaster" grants and low- or no-interest loans for sectors not receiving restart grants
  • $20 million in loans and grants for small businesses and nonprofits with less than $1 million in revenues and five or fewer employees
Another $50 million would be distributed as cash payments to dairy farmers and processors. A $42 million slice would provide rental assistance for property owners whose tenants haven't been able to pay rent, and $8 million would create 250 housing units for homeless families.

The remaining $10 million would be spent on programs to help businesses apply for financial assistance and on marketing campaigns to encourage Vermonters to shop local.

The administration hopes that the financial aid could be distributed within a month after being approved by the legislature.

"We understand that this is not enough," Scott said. "This is really just to stabilize those who are in dire straits right now to make sure that they can exist as we work our way out of this."

Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said the beleaguered dairy industry is suffering even more during the pandemic. Milk prices are at historic lows, a downturn that could last until fall, and cheesemakers have reported that sales have declined 50 to 95 percent as markets "dried up practically overnight," he said.
The grants would cover these losses and extra costs related to COVID-19. A large farm could get a $110,000 grant, which won't cover all of its losses but could "pay some of the bills that need to be paid," Tebbetts said.

"This is about survival," Tebbetts said. "I don't care if you're milking 50 cows somewhere, milking 500 somewhere — we're going to do all we can to get them the resources."

Scott encouraged Vermonters to support local farms when they're grocery shopping: "Buy local is not just for hippies anymore, and it's never been more important than today," he said.

The $42 million rental assistance program would pay off tenants' back rent to prevent evictions, Housing Commissioner Josh Hanford said. The funding would provide up to three months of rent payments to landlords with struggling tenants so they can "pay their own bills and maintain their buildings," he said.

The $8 million investment in housing would fix up existing, substandard units for homeless families. The allocation isn't enough to house the more than 1,500 families who are currently living in hotels and motels, "but we have to start somewhere," Hanford said.
Human Services Secretary Mike Smith said the state will detail plans for more sustainable housing for the homeless "fairly soon."

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