VISA update: Federal relief package enacted, essential business determination guidance issued, and more

Editor’s note: This is an update from the Vermont Independent Schools Association.

 Multi-Trillion Federal Relief Package Enacted 

Congress passed H.R.748 and the President has signed the CARES Act which includes $377 billion included for small business relief. The bill provides $350 billion in loan forgiveness grants to small businesses and non-profits to maintain existing workforce and help pay for other expenses like rent, mortgage, and utilities; $10 billion for Small Business Administration (SBA ) emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs, and $17 billion for the SBA to cover 6 months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans. 

Unemployment insurance (UI) resources include $260 billion to facilitate paycheck replacement amount-ing to a $600 per week increase for every American, which equates to 100 percent of wages for the average American without a paycheck, and allows for the extension of benefits to provide an additional 13 weeks of federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits to be available immediately. Additionally, the bill expands access to unemployment by allowing part-time, self-employed, and gig economy workers to access UI benefits. 

The legislation provides $1 billion for the Defense Production Act to bolster domestic supply chains, enabling industry to increase production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies and $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Child Care Development Block Grant (CDBG) to provide child care assistance to health care sector employees, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and other workers deemed essential during the response to the COVID-19 crisis. It also allocates more than $6.5 billion in Federal funding for CDBG, the Economic Development Administration, and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to help mitigate the local economic crisis and rebuild impacted industries, such as tourism or manufacturing supply chains, and $562 million to help small businesses by ensuring SBA has the resources to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to businesses that need financial support. 

The legislation also provides all U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) a $1,200 ($2,400 for couples) “rebate” payment with additional eligibility of $500 per child. The payments would start phasing out for earners above those income thresholds and would not go to single filers earning more than $99,000, head-of-household filers with one child earning more than $146,500, and joint filers with no children earning more than $198,000. 

Secretary French Testifies in House Ed 

Meeting Friday for the first time since March 13, the day the legislature adjourned due to the COVID-19 state of emergency, the House Education Committee began by hearing from Education Secretary Dan French who explained the latest directive to dismiss schools for the rest of the school year. He described some of the work that has already been done by districts on the ground to implement “continuity of learning plans” and the “tremendous undertaking” of work still to be done to prepare for remote education for the rest of the school year. 

French said high school students are far better prepared to learn remotely because their work is struc-tured around courses instead of classrooms, as is K-5. The loss of direct and regular contact with their teachers is a more painful loss for most K-5 students who normally spend all, or most of the day with a single teacher. 

Continuity of learning plans for students with disabilities is a particularly difficult issue. Lack of Internet is just one possible obstacle. If a student is nonverbal, for example, they will need entirely different kinds of supports uniquely tailored to them. French acknowledged that instituting remote learning will reveal inequities in the system. But districts are employing creative options for moving forward. 

Guidance for districts from the agency on the continuity of learning plan is forthcoming. Given the enormity of work for continuity of learning plans and mandatory meal provisions, French felt it was appropriate that this latest directive “encouraged” rather than required schools to provide childcare to essential workers. 

On the bright side, Sec French recounted that all across the state, nutritious meal delivery is a success with tens of thousands of meals distributed to families who request them since the order went into place. The Governor will issue end of the year gatherings and graduation guidance by – prior to May 8. 

Essential Business Determination Guidance Issued 

Governor Scott recently issued Addendum 6 to Executive order 01-20, requiring non-essential busi-nesses to cease in-person operations. The Addendum permits certain business operations essential to COVID-19 response, public safety, medical care, or support of critical infrastructure. If you feel your business is essential to public wellbeing, but not permitted to operate by Addendum 6, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) is encouraging businesses with questions or requests regarding the acceptable continuation of business operations to complete this online form. ACCD has received thousands of these requests in the last few days and has dedicated additional resources to address the backlog. ACCD has also issued sector specific guidance to help business owners in determining how their business is impacted. 

In the days following Governor Scott’s initial Executive Order declaring a state of emergency, the Administration has issued various Addendums and Directives to supplement and amend the original declaration. 

Unemployment Insurance Changes Advance 

The Vermont House and Senate met this week to vote on rule changes that establish the framework necessary to allow remote voting and to pass legislation that provides additional resources for the COVID-19 response. One piece of legislation sent to the Governor’s desk, H.742, would temporarily expand unemployment insurance (UI) eligibility benefits to those who leave work voluntarily for COVID-19 related issues, including taking care of a family member, school age children with no daycare or open school, and to avoid unreasonable risk (defined as a workplace out of compliance with public health guidance) at the workplace. 

Additionally, H.742 also protects employers from UI rate increases as a result of laying off employees because of circumstances related to the crisis – a provision for which the Vermont Chamber advocated heavily in the days leading up the March 13 emergency adjournment.

Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Education