As our new reality of Stay Home, Stay Safe is extended for another month, I am grateful to write this knowing that Vermont is on the forefront of flattening the curve of COVID-19 transmission. Governor Scott and his team are doing everything they can to keep Vermonters safe and healthy during this uncertain time, and I am confident that those efforts will continue to make a difference. I want to thank everyone who is working to do their part to keep us safe, healthy, and open for business – it’s a monumental task, and I am honored to represent so many of you who are making the “new normal” work for all of us, regardless of where or how you are now contributing. I especially want to thank our healthcare, emergency services, food and beverage, educational, and childcare workers, as well as those who go to work each day providing other essential services in our community – your commitment is vital to our state.
The biggest takeaways from this week’s work are unemployment insurance (UI) and small business assistance. UI is facing the challenge of an overloaded computer system, understaffed call lines, and a record number of folks who are applying – and many of you are feeling the brunt of this perfect storm. Please have patience – this week may be the most difficult, but help is coming in the form of additional call center personnel, weekend hours, and an alphabetized system of calling in. The goal is to be able to process claims more quickly and with fewer “error messages” that further delay claims. There is also a delay in rolling out the Federal extension of UI to include self-employed, independent contractors, sole proprietors, and gig workers (called the PUA program) – it will happen, but the program must first be designed and implemented on a state-by-state basis. The best thing to do is to file an initial claim and sign up to be contacted when the program is ready for release. Please visit www.labor.vermont.gov for the most up to date information on how and when to file or to get a question answered. There is also information on this site about calling into virtual town halls that are being held every Tuesday/Thursday for employees, and every Monday/Wednesday/Friday for employers.
Small business employers and employees should log onto the Agency of Commerce website at www.accd.vermont.gov to view programs on grants and loans – there are sections for businesses, for individuals, and for communities, as well as opportunities for non-profits. A note of advice – we have been told that the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) has a finite amount of money, so it is best to apply sooner rather than later.
Farmers are encouraged to go to www.agriculture.vermont.gov to learn the latest news for farm-related businesses, including financial programs and protocols around distributing food. There you may sign up for the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets newsletter to be delivered to your inbox.
Lastly, all of us should refer frequently to the ever-changing guidance on www.healthvermont.gov , which is the website for the Vermont Department of Health. This week, the emphasis is on the general public being directed to wear cloth face masks when we are out in public – this is a very important component of flattening that curve of transmission, and we all should take it seriously. This site also has translations available for our non-English speaking neighbors.
Please note that the information on all of these websites changes daily, so check back often!
My committee work this week focused on following what ultimately became Senate Bill 333, dealing with a moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures during this emergency situation. It will soon be sent to the full House to await a vote by our membership when we have the capability to do so.
I wish for you all to be safe and stay well. Please email me at email@example.com with your questions and concerns - I am happy to be able to assist you.
Rep Lisa A Hango Berkshire-Richford-Franklin-Highgate