Congressman Peter Welch met virtually Monday with two different Vermont groups to discuss the latest COVID relief package that is expected to receive final approval in the House this week and then move to President Biden’s desk.
Vermont at-large Democrat Peter Welch first met with cultural leaders across the state to discuss the challenges the arts and humanities have faced during the pandemic and how the newest COVID relief package intends to help their sector. “We’re focused on saving individuals but we really have to save communities as well. The contributions you make to the vitality of our communities is enormous. Now in this American Rescue Act there’s going to be $135 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities; $135 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and Vermont will get some of that. There’s also $1.3 billion to Vermont with a good deal of flexibility and you’re going to be able to advocate in Montpelier for an allocation of some of that money to help your organizations.”
Weston Playhouse Executive Artistic Director Susanna Gellert raised concerns about the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant. “Recognizing that was originally conceived to support the for-profit venue administrators how do we as non-profits help to explain the nuances of that grant and why it’s most likely that most of us are not going to have access to it? Because I do fear that there’s a perception that it is helping us when in fact it is not for us.”
Welch: “Every single one of you needed the help. So the Save Our Stages is an example of that and it tended to be those performance venues that essentially had to close down but continue to have expenses and don’t have charitable donations as a past revenue source or any potential for that to be a future one.”
Vermont Arts Council Executive Director Karen Mittelman added that there is a perception that the Save Our Stages effort means the performing arts no longer need help. “We need to keep explaining why most of our venues won’t be able to take advantage of it. As wonderful as it is, it’s not the magic bullet for all of the arts in Vermont.”
Congressman Welch also met virtually with the Vermont Independent Restaurant Coalition. He told members the American Rescue Act includes funds to help sustain their industry and local communities. “The Restaurant Revitalization Fund is going to get $28.6 billion and that’s grant money. That’s not a loan that you can’t afford to repay. Also if you’re able to get EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) funds or you’re able to get PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) funds, and they have their own rules, you’re eligible for those as well. There’s a prioritization for restaurants that have less than 500,000 in annual revenues. So there’s an effort to get to the smaller restaurants and we have a lot of those in Vermont.”
Democrat Patrick Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator and Senate Pro Tem. His state Field Representative Diane Derby attended one of Welch’s virtual meetings and noted that the current COVID relief package has significant funding for a number of sectors. “We’ve got a lot of money here for broadband, the biggest investment we’ve made in ten years. Of course we’ve got the NEA and NEH direct grants 40% of that 135 million will go to the states. We have done our best to argue for flexibility in those state grants. And then there’s also IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) funding in this bill to the tune of $200 million for libraries, museums, sciences. There’s a lot in this bill that might not be as evident as it might seem. It’s going to hopefully help people who need it most.”
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act also includes funding for education, COVID-19 vaccinations and other programs.