The bulk of Vermont's remaining CARES Act funding should be used to help heal the state's ailing economy, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday. To accomplish that, he wants to send every Vermont household on a shopping spree.
Scott plans to press lawmakers to spend another $133 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars to support Vermont employers in direct and indirect ways, including by offering $150 gift cards for residents to use at local businesses.
"We need to focus like a laser on helping these businesses, and the jobs they provide, survive," Scott said at a press conference.
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development has already doled out more than $100 million in economic recovery grants to private businesses. Scott wants to add $23 million to the pot. He also wants to expand the program to include businesses such as sole proprietors and those with less severe revenue drops — a move some lawmakers have signaled they're open to.
The governor wants to allocate another $50 million for direct payments to tourism and hospitality-related businesses, which have struggled with a paucity of tourist visits. To that end, Scott proposed spending another $10 million from the fund on an advertising campaign around fall foliage.
He's also seeking to divvy up $50 million in the form of gift cards to every household as part of a "buy local" initiative. Residents would get $150 to use at Vermont businesses, with federal funds paid directly to the business.
Under current federal rules, lawmakers must use the state's CARES Act money by December 31 and in accordance with certain spending requirements. Legislators reserved about $200 million in funds in part because they expected Congress would grant future spending flexibility. That has not happened.
Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) said the governor's new proposals will need to be weighed against other priorities, such as covering the extra costs incurred by school districts in order to reopen next month. Reached Friday afternoon, he said "there's a lot of merit" to expanding the business grant program but that Scott's other ideas warrant more scrutiny.
"In some ways, we've got to take care of the ABCs before we start up with new inventive ideas," he said.