Compared to the rest of the country, Vermont is a rare bright spot when it comes to controlling the spread of COVID-19. But its economy is facing challenges related to the pandemic, as Congressman Peter Welch discussed on Monday.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce has launched a Virtual Policy Series that features business and government leaders answering questions from members and other chambers across the state. Its initial meeting on Monday featured at-large Congressman Peter Welch discussing federal pandemic assistance efforts.
About 100 people registered for the meeting with the Democrat. About a quarter represented the state’s hospitality industry, another quarter were from business services and organizations and the rest were from manufacturing, higher education and retail.
Congressman Welch began by praising the state for having the lowest COVID infection rate in the country. He then discussed the economic repercussions of the pandemic, saying the federal CARES Act passed because the economic price of the pandemic was obvious. He said it’s now crucial to complete negotiations on the next aid bill. House Democrats passed the HEROES Act in May. “Here’s the challenge. We’re seven months in. The money from the CARES program is dried up and we need to take the next step. We’re borrowing money and I’m a pay-as-you-go person but this is a once in a hundred year event. And my goal is to try to make certain through the assistance that only the federal government can provide that these Vermont businesses that when we get to the other side of COVID you’ll come with us.”
Welch hopes an agreement on the new bill is completed before Election Day. “Where it stands at the moment is that there’s ongoing aggressive negotiations largely with the Speaker and with Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the administration. I am advocating very energetically that we focus on the economic part of this package and that we do that as soon as we possibly can. I do believe that in this once in a century event that the more we do now the sooner we’ll get out of this and return to normal.”
Questions were submitted in advance or through the Zoom chat function. During the hour-long meeting Vermont Chamber CEO Betsy Bishop fielded the submitted questions. “What’s the likelihood of spending the CRF (Coronavirus Relief Funds) funds beyond December 30th? Existing CRF funds we know are until that. But are you advocating for this new phase of funding to be beyond where we are today so that it can carry people into the first quarter of the calendar year or beyond?”
Welch: “I am. I am very strongly. And in fact I’ve urged Speaker Pelosi to let us have a standalone bill that would extend that December 31st date for utilization of the CARES money for another year. The HEROES package that we passed, the aid package from the House that hasn’t gone anywhere in the Senate, does extend that date.”
Bishop ended the forum with a more lighthearted question for the state’s only House representative. “Have you voted yet?”
Welch: “I have. I voted by mail. I like going down to the town office. Our town clerk Bonnie you know gives me a hard time and wants to know who I’m voting for for Congress! And it’s just fun to be down there. But Margaret and I did vote. We stuck it in the box down there at the Norwich town clerk’s office.”
You can watch the Vermont Chamber’s complete Virtual Policy Meeting with Congressman Peter Welch below. Among his opponents in November’s race is Republican Miriam Berry.