This week in the virtual Statehouse has seen a whirlwind of proposals to spend Coronavirus Relief Funds, and like the weather in Vermont, if you didn’t like one, wait a minute and a new one was proposed…Nearly four weeks ago, the Administration put forth a $400 million Relief package, with major allocations to housing, businesses, healthcare providers, and agriculture. As of this week, much of this funding has been designated to agencies and departments to be used for COVID-19 related work, but unfortunate gaps in aid to agricultureremain. It is my hope that by the time the Legislature adjourns on June 26, these holes will be filled and more families will be out of danger of losing their livelihoods. I am grateful that the Commerce Committee has provided more funding this week for many of the small businesses, nonprofits, minority and woman-owned enterprises, restaurants, highway contractors, andcreative organizations that employ our family, friends, and neighbors. A bright spot on the Ag and Forestry products horizon is that the Working Lands Enterprise Fund will receive funding for related business ventures and that aid is provided to assure that our parks and natural recreation areas remain safe and open. For those of you who have enquired about additional funds for hazard pay to essential workers – only certainoccupations were allowed by the federal definition of “essential” worker and are included in the relief bill for those front-line workers.
A very important bill, H.965, provides for funding to help hospitals, independent practitioners (dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, etc), adult day centers, residential homes, nursing homes, recovery homes, and home health agencies weather the storm of scaling back services, or temporarily suspending services, due to the COVID-19 crisis. As I serve on the Board of the Franklin County Home Health Agency and the NMC Board of Incorporators, I feel strongly that this is a crucial piece of legislation to keep healthcare services accessible in our County.
In H.966, additional funding is allocated to housing initiatives, expanding on the fast-track assistance that was passed last week,for rental arrearages, preventing evictions and foreclosures, rehab of rental units and shelters, and legal counsel for both tenants and landlords. A joint hearing of the House Human Services and General Housing Committees with AHS continuedto flesh out a plan crafted by the Agency of Human Services (AHS) in collaboration with our committees and advocates to work to end the homelessness crisis that gripped our state pre-COVID and to provide necessary services to that population.
The other portion of this bill is funding for broadband connectivity, particularly targeting the 6.8% (21,000) of Vermonters who cannot access dial-up speeds and the 23% (70,000) who do not yet meet the minimum FCC benchmark of 25/3Mbps needed to work, attend school, or conduct telehealth visits remotely. The vast majority of us (82% of Vermonters, or 245,000) work with less than 100Mbps, something our neighbors in more populated areas take for granted. School districts, healthcare entities, government employees, and families with school-aged children should take note of the progress of this bill as it moves to the Senate and beyond, as the creation of the “Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative” and the “COVID-Response Line Extension Customer Assistance Packages” could be instrumental in getting hard to resolve, end of the line, or low-income households connected to broadband capabilities.
This work is complex, but I have faith in us coming together in spite of our differences, to make decisions to help all Vermonters be in a better place on the other side of this public health and economic crisis. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with concerns at [email protected]
Stay well, Representative Lisa A Hango – Berkshire -Richford-Franklin-Highgate