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Vermont Senate Leaders Discuss Federal COVID Relief Funding

Vermont Statehouse
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse (file)

The Vermont Legislature adjourned on June 26th and plans to return at the end of August.  The leader of the Senate and its finance committee chairs recently discussed the Legislature’s distribution of federal Coronavirus Relief Funds allocated to the state, and the work to be completed when they return.
Among the $2.2 trillion CARES Act money allocated to states to cover COVID 19 expenditures, Vermont is getting $1.25 billion in CRF or Coronavirus Relief Funds.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Danville Democrat Jane Kitchel recently reported that the legislature had allocated or appropriated over $1 billion of the $1.25 billion. She said the goal was to have some money remaining so they could respond to needs that arose after the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1st.  “We have put forward what we hope is a sense of priorities. For me one of the things that we wanted to focus on was trying to do as much as we could in broadband, also for the health care and for us in the Senate doing something on hazard pay was one of our top priorities. These are people who put themselves at risk and are lower wage employees. So I think if you look at these bills you’ll see how our priorities are reflected and how the money was appropriated.”

Kitchel said one of her top priorities is allocating money for higher education needs.  “$63 million has been appropriated to address the problems that COVID has presented to our public higher-ed. We know and we heard from our state economist that we need to think about higher education more in terms of economic development. There’s about a three to one return. Those institutions are really probably one of the most important businesses we’ve got. So one thing that is not showing and I would put very much on the business stabilization side of the ledger is over $60 million to support higher education.”

Montpelier Democrat Ann Cummings is chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which appropriated $20 million for broadband expansion. Cummings says it’s been an incredible challenge especially in the more remote areas of the state and considering the mandates of the federal funding.  “It sounds like a lot of money but it’s not enough to even make a registered amount in the statewide effort to get broadband to everyone.”   
“And this is Jane Kitchel. This is another disappointment in that the parameters that we were given in terms of the use of the CRF money turned out to be very very restrictive. Originally I was hoping to allocate as much as $100 million to support our broadband goals and it turned out to be so restrictive.”

Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat/Progressive from Burlington, anticipates that when the legislature returns they will make budget adjustments and allocate the remaining Coronavirus Relief Funds.  “When we get the revenue forecast in mid-August that will tell us the extent of the hole that we’re facing. Then we’ll look at which reserves are available and appropriate for potential use to help get us through the next year. And that will play a role in helping us fill our budget hole moving forward. I’m particularly concerned about the additional cost for schools to be ready to safely return people. So that’s one. I think that we’ll have also a better sense of what aspects of our economy have been starting to return to some semblance of normal before others.  That will give us a chance to put additional dollars on the table for more business relief.”

The Vermont Senate reconvenes on Tuesday, August 25th.


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