With the economy slowed and schools closed, Vermont Governor Phil Scott gave another update Wednesday on the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor’s primary intention was to have members of his administration explain current “economic tools” the state has available to businesses and residents who need help. But Governor Scott started by asking Vermonters to volunteer for a new essential workers’ reserve corps. “Vermont faces a workforce shortage across all sectors but especially in healthcare even in the best of times. With all the hours these workers are putting in, and unfortunately we know some will become ill, we need to build this reserve corps.”
Agency of Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle reviewed provisions of the just-passed federal CARES Act and encouraged all small business owners to apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. “By applying for this loan a business harmed by COVID-19 is also eligible for a grant that provides an emergency advance of up to $10,000 within three days of applying. To access the advance, you must first apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and then request the advance. The advance does not need to be repaid and may be used to keep employees on payroll, pay for sick leave, meet increased production costs due to supply chain disruptions or pay business obligations. This resource is available to businesses now.”
Vermont is among the states reeling as large numbers of people attempt to apply for unemployment benefits. Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington says in the past two weeks they have processed more claims than in a typical year. “We've tripled our staff on the phone lines. We have waived work search requirements. We've also shortened that payment process which was typically two weeks or more to six to 10 days. We're also making it so that claims are not denied because someone's not able and available to work because they're quarantined or self-isolating at home. We've also added as many electronic forms as we can online. We've also extended benefits and relief to employers. So those that are having to lay individuals off or people who are having to work from home will find relief in their taxes come the next calculation.”
The governor has asked big-box and large retailers selling essential items such as food and prescription drugs to stop in-store sales of nonessential products such as furniture, clothes and electronics. Scott said they are trying to stop groups of people from shopping for items they don’t immediately need. “We want them to stay home and not go out and shop for something they don't really need at that point in time. That's the goal. And it isn't to harm businesses. It's not to harm the economy. It's not to harm our revenue into the state. It’s to keep people alive and keep people healthy.”
The Vermont Health Department is reporting 28 new COVID-19 cases for a total of 321. There have been 16 deaths. The most recent were individuals living at a senior living community and a nursing home. The Health Department is investigating confirmed COVID cases at eight such facilities in the state.