Vermont Small Companies Will Should Wait Months for Aid Cash, Lawmakers Warn

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  • Tim Newcomb © ️ Seven Days

Members of Congress are putting the finishing touches on a $ 1.9 trillion aid package that could be finalized Tuesday in the US House of Representatives.

But Vermont lawmakers are already warning small business owners it could be midsummer before they see any cash relief. Legislators must decide how and through which programs to divide their expected $ 1.3 billion stake in the pot, a process that can take months, House spokeswoman Jill Krowinski (D-Burlington) warned during one virtual meeting of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

“This is the part that we really struggled with in the last session: the time it took [state lawmakers] to put the rules together, ”said Krowinski.

Last year, Vermont received a $ 1.25 billion share of the $ 2 trillion CARES bill passed by Congress in March 2020. It wasn’t until the beginning of July that the first corporate grants began to accept applications.

A similar scenario could also play out this time, said Krowinski.

“Even if the money is approved in April or May, we may not get it until later in the summer,” she said.

It’s not early enough for business owners who last applied for grants this fall, said Kim Donahue, co-owner of the Inn at Round Barn Farm in Waitsfield.

“That’s really not okay,” said Donahue, who heard the same time estimate on a phone call to other property owners on Monday morning. “We already have an enormous need.”

Many small business owners are pinning their hopes on an economic development package that is now going through the Vermont Senate that includes $ 10 million in grants for businesses that were ineligible for state or federal COVID-19 grants in the past year. The Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee was due to hear testimony on the bill on Tuesday.

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Once the federal COVID-19 law goes into effect, the U.S. Treasury Department will have 30 days to get the money to the states. Next, Governor Phil Scott would make recommendations to lawmakers, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner for the Department of Economic Development. The legislature would then have to set priorities and create grant programs.

Last year, the Commerce and Community Development Agency provided approximately $ 340 million to Vermont’s small businesses through such programs.

Goldstein said she was concerned about the hospitality businesses that have been closed or severely restricted for a year.

“We know that anyone whose business has anything to do with restaurants, lodging, gatherings, entertainment and transportation – all of these hurt,” she said. “Even if they got money beforehand, they’ll probably need more money before everything opens up. Property characteristics say they are 10 percent occupied. People just don’t come. ”

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said lawmakers will try to do as much work in advance as possible to expedite the process. They may have to return to the virtual statehouse in August like last year.

“I don’t think that’s what anyone wants, but we might have to keep the budget open, maybe come back,” said Balint. “We just don’t know yet. it’s too early. ”

Even with the practice of creating the programs, Goldstein said, it will be months before lawmakers decide where and how to spend the money. Vermont’s annual budget is generally around $ 6 billion, and policymakers aren’t used to spending an extra billion on programs like education, childcare, and broadband.

“I don’t expect it to be weeks. It will take months, ”said Goldstein. “There will be hearings; there will be testimony. It is a lot of money.”