Now the fun starts. Gov. Phil Scott Wednesday proposed a $400 million recovery package intended to provide essential relief to businesses laid low by the Covid-19 pandemic, including housing and agriculture. The proposal goes to the Legislature, where it will be reviewed, tweaked, or redone before it’s returned to the governor and made available to those in need.

The $400 million is being funded, in large part, by the $1.25 billion given to us by the federal government through the CARES Act signed into law in April. That $400 million is to be doled out to a variety of businesses/industries though an RFP process, and administered largely through state agencies or departments.

The governor’s intent is to have this money get into the hands of those in need as quickly as possible. Every week lost makes it that much more difficult for those at risk to survive. Speed is essential.

It’s also $400 million that, from a political point of view, carries with it significant importance. Politics being what it is, it’s an opening for legislators to put their own imprimatur on how the money is disbursed. It’s an election year. Human nature is what it is.

It’s important legislators give the governor’s proposals the necessary review and input. It’s less about the author than the idea. If legislators have better suggestions, some creative thought not before imagined, then it’s important it be given its due consideration.

There are two things for legislators to avoid; the first, is to put in place so many restrictions that the money can’t be easily accessed, the second, is to broaden the recipient categories so widely that it’s ineffective.

The proposed disbursal focus on four categories: financial, housing and technical assistance and marketing and are fairly straightforward. The lion’s share, $250 million goes to financial assistance, $50 million goes to housing, $5 million to technical assistance, $5 million to marketing and $50 million to agriculture, primarily dairy. The remaining $90 million will be detailed in phase two of the recovery package.

There is a lot at stake for Franklin County in this package. We’re the state’s largest dairy producer, we have the youngest population [and we’re one of three counties showing any growth], we have a disproportionately large manufacturing base for our population, we have everything from Jay Peak to Lake Champlain in our backyard, and the county’s largest city, St. Albans, is still pushing through its ongoing plans to strengthen its $60 million TIF upgrade.

As one of the state’s strongest regional economies, it’s crucial to do what’s necessary to keep what we have progressing forward.

That includes our dairy farmers. The governor’s proposal to devote $50 million to our farmers is key. There is probably no sector of the economy that spins money through the local economy faster than farming. That $50 million is what ends up at the local feed, hardware stores, restaurants, etc.

The Covid-19 crisis has also opened up minds to the importance of food security, which invites considerations of how important it is to buy locally, and how important the quality of what we east is to our health. How can we take these considerations into account as we rebuild our economy?

These questions, and how efficiently we can get the federal money into the hands of those who need it are at the forefront of today’s conversation.

by Emerson Lynn

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