Money for Business 'Safety Net' Inches Toward Approval in Vermont House | Off Message

Money for Business 'Safety Net' Inches Toward Approval in Vermont House

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TIM NEWCOMB ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Tim Newcomb ©️ Seven Days
The newly renovated Inn at Water's Edge in Ludlow reopened for business in March 2020 — just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to close it again. Now the owners of the 11-room inn are using money from an insurance company they own in Pennsylvania to pay the bills while they wait for restrictions to ease, and guests to start returning.

“We’re funding it at this point,” said Connie Rae, who with her husband bought the inn in the summer of 2019 and spent the autumn renovating it. Their son is the chef. “I don’t know how other people are doing this if they have no other means.”

The Inn at Water's Edge is one of many Vermont businesses that missed out when the state and federal government were handing out grants to help businesses stay solvent last year. While the inn did receive a $12,500 Paycheck Protection Program loan, it wasn’t eligible for any of the $340 million that the state gave out to businesses. It hadn’t been open long enough under its new ownership to show financial comparisons from the prior year, a requirement of the grant application.

The inn might now have another chance at some state cash. The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill on Monday that includes $10 million to help businesses that weren't eligible for other grants in 2020.
It’s not clear how many Vermont businesses missed out on the state funding, but the Lake Champlain Chamber has been hearing from a lot of them lately. Given the billions of dollars of coronavirus relief funding that have flowed into Vermont over the last year, $10 million isn’t much, said Austin Davis, the chamber's government affairs manager.

“It’s like a safety net below a safety net,” Davis said. “We know there are people — we have seen them — that just haven’t gotten any assistance for various reasons, and this is just meant to be something that catches those people.”



When the new owners of the Inn at Water's Edge took over, they created a new business, with new tax identification numbers. So while the business had been open for many years, they had no financial statements from 2019 to use in their application.

“We put out a lot of marketing stuff to" attract visitors, Rae said, "and then when we shut down, it was devastating.”
The Inn at Water's Edge - COURTESY OF CONNIE RAE
  • Courtesy of Connie Rae
  • The Inn at Water's Edge
The idea of using $10 million in unspent federal cash to help businesses that fell through the cracks has been around since early winter. In its latest iteration, the money is part of a $35 million coronavirus relief funding bill that includes millions of dollars for mental health, affordable housing and homelessness initiatives, as well as school indoor air quality.

The bill also includes $10 million for outdoor recreation businesses so they can begin work on projects this spring instead of waiting until the next fiscal year starts in July, said Rep. Peter Fagan (R-Rutland City), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The full House is expected to vote on the bill this week. If both chambers approve it and Gov. Phil Scott ultimately signs the measure, the money for businesses will be administered by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, which operated the business grants programs in 2020. Businesses will be able to receive up to $150,000, said Rep. Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier), the House Appropriations chair.

Davis said the money is welcome, but it might not be enough to stop fragile businesses from collapsing. “The sad part is, it’s pretty late, almost a year into the pandemic,” he said. “They might have given up or found other trajectories at this point.”