While there has been only one COVID death in three months in Vermont, the state continues to collect at least $1 billion in federal taxpayer money to alleviate economic hardships resulting from Gov. Phil Scott’s virus-related shutdowns.
Namely, Vermont has had $1.25 billion allocated to it via the Federal CARES Act — more than $2,000 per Vermonter. The money has to be distributed by the end of the year or it goes back to the federal government. The state also is receiving FEMA money, and those who have filed for unemployment can expect to dip into an extra $35.8 million in federal funds.
Any Vermont business that can document a decline in its activity between March and September of this year compared with last year may be eligible for the CARES money, as $76 million was recently made available.
Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, explained how the CARES funding is distributed to those who need it.
“You have to document your 2019 revenue and then your 2020 revenue, and then we see the delta in that to see the revenue impact. And then from that you would subtract any other state or federal money that you got to help deal with this emergency,” she said.
Goldstein said the hospitality industry has been hit the worst from the governor’s economic clampdown.
“I would say that the group that needs the most is probably the lodging properties and the event venues, because those are the ones that are most restricted in terms of their business activities. That’s where most of the need is,” she said.
As of late September, about $300 million in CARES money had already been spent on business grants, rent/mortgage assistance, broadband development, and more. All 50 states are receiving CARES money, but Vermonters are getting much more. While the average funding per capita for the entire nation is less than $400, Vermonters are receiving $2,000.
“We did very well because we’re a small state and the small state minimum really helped us out,” Goldstein said.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury website, for a state to receive CARES money there must be “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019.”
Ethan Latour, a spokesman for Scott, told True North that CARES money is sent to each state regardless of whether there’s a formal state of emergency declared by the governor. However, he added that the declaration of emergency, which has been renewed each month since March, allows Scott to continue with the restrictions on businesses and social interactions.
“Scott said the state emergency not only helps the state to suppress the virus but it also keeps protections in place to mitigate economic hardships, including expanded housing and meal delivery systems, expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance, resources for businesses and federal emergency funding,” the Associated Press reported last month when Scott extended the emergency to Nov. 15.
Scott appears ready to keep the state of emergency going, even though Vermont has had just one death and few hospitalizations.
In addition to mask and distance mandates, businesses continue to be restricted. Restaurant dining rooms are limited to 50 percent capacity, which resulted in a 58 percent drop in restaurant sales.
Yet Scott has continued to warn Vermonters not to let their guards down.
“We cannot become complacent,” he said. “While our success has allowed us to do more, we must keep making smart choices. This means staying six feet apart and wearing a mask (even around friends), avoiding crowds, following travel guidance and washing our hands. We can continue to move forward if we stay vigilant.”
Goldstein said that some business owners are ready to get back to normal.
“There’s definitely pressure because people, their livelihoods are at stake. We get that,” she said.
Over the summer, attorney Deborah Bucknam represented Club Fitness in Rutland as the gym owners fought back against Scott’s mandates. They argued in court that the shutdowns of businesses amount to a “taking” that must be financially compensated. The gym lost the case.
Bucknam told True North her client is planning to appeal the state court decision, and said that process is ongoing. She reiterated that there is a specific provision in Vermont’s Emergency Management statute which says businesses must be compensated.
“The court in my opinion did not analyze that correctly,” she said.
Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office estimates that the state will have over $330 million in anticipated revenue loss for the fiscal year 2021.