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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Vermont Launches Grant Program For COVID-Impacted Businesses

Phil Scott at a podium
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ORCA media
Gov. Phil Scott, seen here at his Wednesday media briefing, says a new grant program is a much needed lifeline to help businesses.

Vermont plans to open a grant program next week to help businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said Wednesday the program will use about $150 million in federal funds to disperse grants of up to $50,000 to cover COVID-related losses. She said she knows the assistance won’t be enough to cover what businesses lost during the pandemic-caused shutdown.

“We realize that these grants are not enough to make businesses whole,” she said at Gov. Phil Scott’s press briefing. “But we do hope that this influx of cash can help them survive as Vermont continues to reopen in the months ahead.”

"We realize that these grants are not enough to make businesses whole. But we do hope that this influx of cash can help them survive as Vermont continues to reopen in the months ahead." — Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein

Goldstein said if a business pays rooms and meals or sales taxes, it should apply through a Tax Department web portal. Other private businesses and nonprofits will apply through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

More from VPR: Scott, Lawmakers Tussle Over COVID Relief For Vermont Businesses

A separate grant program for farms and food processors will be administered by the Agency of Agriculture.

Scott said the Legislature allocated less than what he wanted for the program. He said he may seek additional funding when lawmakers return in August.

“Helping these businesses survive right now is essential, or many jobs won’t come back, and we’ll face a long-term economic crisis, and state and local governments will face budget gaps for years to come,” he said. “Even though this economic relief will help, I know it’s not enough.” 

Few cases, lauded testing

State health officials said Wednesday that Vermont has seen just two new cases of COVID-19 since Monday, and that the local outbreaks in Winooski and Fair Haven seem to be contained.

Officials also cited a recent analysis done by Harvard University and NPR that found Vermont's testing program is among the best in the country.

Scott said he's pleased with the state's progress as it gradually reopens.

"I think we've moved along reasonably well over the last couple of months. But it does give you pause, when you're seeing other states who thought they had it in hand as well." — Gov. Phil Scott

“I think we've moved along reasonably well over the last couple of months,” he said. “But it does give you pause when you're seeing other states who thought they had it in hand as well.”

Scott pointed to states such as Arizona and Texas, where officials thought the virus was under control, only to see new surges as bars, restaurants and other public spaces reopened.

But Scott said the state is prepared if things get worse, and has a 52-day supply of COVID testing materials on hand.

Reopening schools

The governor said state education officials are already doing the work of a school reopening task force proposed by Senate President Tim Ashe.

Ashe called for the task force earlier this week. He said members should include teachers, school board members and administrators, who together would develop safe protocols for schools to reopen this fall.

But Scott said that this work is already underway, and that a group has met weekly since April under the direction of the Agency of Education, and includes members of the state teachers' union.

“I thought it was unfortunate that two days after the Legislature had adjourned, that they called for more oversight,” Scott said. “I would have thought that the committees of jurisdiction, in the House and Senate, in education, might have wanted to check if they had some questions about how we were moving forward, because we had announced we were opening up [schools] three or four weeks ago.”

More from VPR: Vermont Schools To Reopen In Fall, But Class Won't Look The Same

Scott noted that Ashe's call for a task force comes during a campaign season. Ashe is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

Mask education

The Scott administration is also launching a public education campaign focused on getting people to wear facial coverings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Scott reiterated his argument that education is more effective than mandating that people wear masks.

"There's a lot of friction, controversy [over mask mandates], like a defense mechanism, the government telling you what to do once again. I would rather educate, lead and inspire people to do the right thing." — Gov. Phil Scott

“There's a lot of friction, controversy, like a defense mechanism, the government telling you what to do once again,” he said. “I would rather educate, lead and inspire people to do the right thing. And right now, this is a good thing to do, when you can, in those conditions, where you can't physically distance yourself from someone else.”

Administration officials say the public awareness campaign will use social media as well as posters and traditional advertisements.

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