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Scott Says Businesses Are On The Brink And Legislature Must Pass Full COVID Relief Package Soon

Gov. Phil Scott at podium
Orca Media
Gov. Phil Scott says many businesses are on the brink of survival and are in desperate need of help from the state.

Gov. Phil Scott is urging the Legislature to hurry up and pass a sweeping COVID relief package he proposed three weeks ago.

Legislative leaders plan to be in session through June and then come back in August. Lawmakers have whittled down the governor's plan to use $400 million in federal funds to help shore up businesses, non-profits and farms hurt by the pandemic.

Scott said Friday he'd like to see the whole amount funded, and he wants it done now to help companies and their laid-off workers.

More from VPR: Live At Noon: Gov. Phil Scott On Coronavirus, State Government and Measuring Progress On Diversity

“If we don't, if those businesses fail, we're going to have possibly thousands and thousands of people unemployed over for the long term,” he said. “So I'm saying: We have the money. We have the CARES [COVID-19 relief] money that was forwarded to us by Congress for just this purpose. And I'm just asking us to act. Let's just move forward.”

"While this pandemic has impacted everyone in this state, it has crippled small businesses, the folks who provide the jobs that families rely on and generate the revenue we need for the services we provide in state government." - Gov. Phil Scott

Scott said spending the money now to help employers will avert a larger economic crisis in the future.

“Because the fact is that while this pandemic has impacted everyone in this state, it has crippled small businesses, the folks who provide the jobs that families rely on and generate the revenue we need for the services we provide in state government,” he said. “And I can assure you these employers are on the brink; some are weeks or even days away from bankruptcy.”

Lawmakers have passed a preliminary $90 million package. But they want to keep about a third of the federal money in reserve for use later this year. Senate President Tim Ashe told his colleagues earlier this week that he wants to wait to see if the federal government will allow the money to be spent to backfill a looming state budget deficit.

More from VPR: Vermont Schools Need $12 Million In Relief To Deliver Lunches Through Summer

“We have wanted to make sure that there’s some money on standby in case we get some flexibility because the volume of [budget] cuts that would be required are not insignificant,” he said. “And so in terms of some of the decisions we’re  making right now, part of it is making sure we don’t go ahead and pledge all the money and then find ourselves in the situation where we’re being told we have to make 8% cuts across the board, which would affect everybody who has interactions with state government.”

"We have wanted to make sure that there's some money on standby in case we get some flexibility because the volume of [budget] cuts that would be required are not insignificant." - Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe

At his Friday press briefing, Scott brought out his top economic development officials to plead the case for lawmakers to act. Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said the first phase of the $400 million package includes $310 million in grants, loans and other assistance to businesses, farms and non-profits. She said her office has fielded calls from companies asking for help for weeks.

“The anguish is palpable, evident in every phone call and email,” she said. “People in business for generations, over 40 years, through recessions, through thick and thin, just could not foresee how they were going to make it through this crisis.”

An update on the Winooski-Burlington outbreak

Meanwhile, the Department of Health Friday reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont. Half of those are in Chittenden County, which has seen an outbreak in Winooski and Burlington.

The number of deaths in the state remains at 55, and has held steady for nearly two weeks.

Credit Screenshot / Department of Financial Regulation
Department of Financial Regulation
The state's modeling data shows that the new COVID-19 cases in Winooski and Burlington have pushed the state above the projected 'best case' scenario for caseload increase.

The Chittenden County outbreak has pushed up Vermont's case totals and means the state has lost its status as having one of the slowest virus growth rates in the country.

Commissioner of Financial Regulation Michael Pieciak oversees the state's modeling forecasts. He said at the governor’s press briefing that Vermont still has a relatively low number of cases compared with neighboring states.

For a timeline outlining Vermont's response to COVID-19, head here.

“Over the last week, we saw 84 new confirmed cases in Vermont, with at least 38 of those cases traced back to the Winooski and Burlington outbreak,” he said. “We need more time to analyze the outbreak and how many cases are connected to it. But again, for some important context, our northern New England neighbors, New Hampshire and Maine, continue to see case growth that is far higher than Vermont.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine added that the new Chittenden County cases do not represent the COVID-19 resurgence that most health experts predict will hit later this year.

"We were for a couple of weeks so low in our test positivity and in our new cases that this outbreak [in Winooski and Burlington] looks very dramatic in the context of that data... The reality is I wouldn't want to label this Vermont's resurgence of COVID-19." - Health Commissioner Mark Levine

“This is just part of our experience with it since the outset. This isn’t what I think a resurgence is going to look like,” Levine said.

Travel restrictions relax further

The state on Friday also continued to relax travel restrictions for people coming here from counties with low case numbers. Pieciak, the commissioner of financial regulation, said seven additional counties have moved below the state’s target threshold of 400 active cases per 1 million people.

People traveling here from those counties do not have to adhere to the state’s requirement that they self-quarantine for 14 days, or quarantine at home for seven days and then get a COVID test that must come up negative. The new guidelines also allow a person to stay at a Vermont inn or motel for seven days, and then stop quarantining if they get tested and the results are negative.

Pieciak said there are now 62 counties with 4.6 million residents “no longer subject to Vermont’s quarantine,” including almost the entire state of Maine.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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