While the Statehouse is closed, we will be in touch with the administration and others to best protect Vermonters’ health and safety during these challenging times.
The Joint House and Senate Rules Committee meets daily via conference call to get updates from the administration and ask specific questions. On Saturday, the committee spoke with the commissioner of health. On Sunday, the secretary of education updated us on school closings. On Monday, the committee hoped to hear from the Department of Labor.
Below are updates from the House of Representatives, information from the treasurer and other financial institutions, as well as Department of Motor Vehicles and the attorney general.
House action: On Friday before closing, the House took action to lay the groundwork for our response to the impacts of COVID-19 on our people, businesses, and communities. Action included:
• Adapted unemployment insurance eligibility to make it clear that COVID-19-affected businesses and individuals are eligible to receive unemployment.
• Ensured employers’ unemployment insurance experience rating is not affected by COVID-19-related claims.
• Passed a resolution calling on the federal government to refrain from detaining or arresting undocumented immigrants in health care settings during this health care crisis.
• Passed a health care workforce bill that will allow retired medical professionals with valid licenses from other states to join the workforce, streamlines the process for the Agency of Human Services to fund providers in the state to sustain them through the health care crisis, and prohibits coronavirus-related copayments.
• Approved an amendment to expand our paid sick days law to businesses with five or more employees who work 30 hours a week or more.
Passing these bills was a preparatory step to ensure that, as federal responses are clarified, the Vermont Senate has the ability to act quickly on a COVID-19 package.
Vermont’s financial health
State Treasurer Beth Pearce reported that Vermont is in good financial health. We have a strong cash position, fully funded reserves, and we are able to pay our obligations through disruptions.
Depending on the duration and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont is preparing to provide flexibility and support for businesses. The Vermont Economic Development Authority outlined a proposed emergency, low-interest loan program for Vermont businesses to enable them to weather cash flow shortages caused in part by the COVID-19. While not available yet, the organization has experience administering such loan programs and is gearing up its staff to help struggling businesses.
Access to loans and capital may become critical if COVID-19 is a prolonged event. Representatives of the Vermont Bankers Association and the Vermont Credit Union Association have stated that these institutions will remain open for business, with solid operational plans in place, even if affected by employee shortages.
If constituents have difficulty meeting their loan payments, whether they are car loans, credit cards, mortgages, business loans or other obligations, encourage them to contact their lender immediately. VEDA, the credit unions and the banks will work with borrowers to the maximum extent that they can.
• For self-employed individuals, Vermont does not have law granting unemployment benefits.
• The Department of Motor Vehicles will be giving extensions for registration and license renewals.
• From the Attorney General’s Office: COVID-19 guidance for small business is at ago.vermont.gov.
Importantly, remember that businesses are consumers, too, protected by the Consumer Protection Act when they are in the consumer role, such as buying hand sanitizer or bleach wipes for their business use.
• On Monday, we posted on Facebook a more general notice about price gouging, which linked to this post on the Consumer Assistance Program blog: blog.uvm.edu/cap/is-price-gouging-in-your-community.
If anyone has any concerns at all, call the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424. If CAP can’t help, it can make a referral.
Reps. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, and Kari Dolan D-Waitsfield, also represent Duxbury, Fayston and Warren in the Vermont House of Representatives.