The 2021 session is certainly one for the record books, both in terms of legislator time spent on Zoom and the vast infusion of federal aid that has come to the Green Mountain State due to the global pandemic.
Of course, we will never forget the hundreds of Vermonters who lost their lives, nor those of us still navigating grief or diminished health. I worked diligently with my colleagues like Rep. Kate Webb this session to ensure that the billions of dollars coming into the state were put to immediate and effective use in response to the crisis.
In addition, I advocated for numerous high-impact, once-in-a-lifetime investments you’ll read about over time here in the Shelburne News.
Webb and I will work on weekly articles in coming weeks to address various topics detailing many of the accomplishments this past year of our virtual legislative session.
The just-passed 2022 budget strengthens systems and services that increase health and well-being. It brings broadband and connectivity to rural communities. It invests in childcare to increase affordability and accessibility. It makes a massive investment in increasing affordable housing stock for low- and middle-income Vermonters.
The budget also prioritizes climate change, clean water and begins to center racial and social equity in more of our investments. Our work has centered around the creation of an equitable recovery plan that invests in people and rebuilds the economy in all 14 counties. Phew!
I look forward to a well-earned exhale and to connecting with you as face-to-face living kicks back in. I have picked a few important investments to discuss in today’s article but remember there is much more to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought the most significant job-loss event ever experienced by Vermont’s unemployment insurance system. Thousands of workers, including a higher-than-average percentage of women, lost jobs or were forced to stay home and care for loved ones or children learning remotely. Many businesses struggled as they were forced to close or scale-back operations due to necessary, state-imposed restrictions.
The Legislature designed S.62 in response to this economic crisis. It is a package of programs and benefits that will both support workers post-pandemic and shore up the unemployment system for the future. The bill:
• Adds a long-term supplemental benefit of $25 per week for recipients when the federal bump ends in September.
• Protects businesses from being unduly burdened with large tax increases caused by COVID-layoffs by removing the year 2020 from the employer calculation.
• Ensures the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund is replenished and ready for Vermonters in the event of another economic emergency.
• Appropriates $100,000 in scholarships for adult students enrolled in workforce development programs at adult career and tech education centers.
• Provides $150,000 to tech centers for the purchase of new equipment, and $150,000 for curriculum development related to high-growth, high-need sectors.
To get relief to Vermonters quickly, the Legislature also passed H.315 in early April, a $97.5 million pandemic-relief bill that invested federal funds before the end of session to jumpstart the state’s recovery. This bill created $10.5 million in economic recovery bridge grants, targeting new and small businesses not eligible for assistance initially.
H.315 also allocated $500,000 in grants for the EMBRACE Micro Business Program, providing up to $5,000 to low- and moderate-income Vermonters with businesses under five employees and less than $25,000 in annual revenue. Finally, $8.2 million was approved for the Vermont State Colleges System, UVM and Vermont Student Assistance Corporation to provide up to two free classes to adult Vermonters looking to boost job skills or change careers, to all 2020 and 2021 high-school grads, and to train more licensed practical nurses.
The House Commerce Committee engaged business and community leaders — including people from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color — across the state to inform and develop legislation to create the BIPOC Business Development Pproject detailed in H.159. It invests $150,000 and may include the creation of a minority business development center or authority. This legislation will also provide technical support for businesses owned by people of color in procurement of state contracts, improve language access and cultural competency practices within state economic development programs, and strengthen state data collection to better serve the variety of identities represented within communities of color.
In my next article I will share more information regarding broadband expansion, child care access, and important investments in cleaning up our water and addressing climate change. Reach out if you have any questions or concerns at email@example.com.
Rep. Jessica Brumsted, a Democrat, represents Shelburne and St. George in the Vermont House.