Legislative Update 4-27-20: An Empty State House, But Much Activity

by Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations
Here’s something I never thought I’d say: the Vermont State House has gone fully virtual. What used to be crowded committee rooms and cafeteria conversations is now Zoom calls, YouTube, and voting apps. The Senate and House health care committees have been meeting jointly, which is an efficiency that is much appreciated right now. VAHHS has been laser-focused on tracking federal initiatives, but the state house has had some major movement lately.
State of Vermont Receives $1.25 Billion from CARES Act: On Saturday, April 18th, Vermont received the $1.25 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) from the Federal CARES Act. For oversight purposes, the Joint Fiscal Committee will be accepting the funds in three tranches. The first tranche will be an emergency fund that could be spent by the Administration without additional legislative approval. The second tranche will be a fund for time-sensitive matters and would require spending approval by the Joint Fiscal Committee. The third tranche would go through the regular budgeting process, requiring approval by the full legislature. 
Many are still parsing out how the funding can and cannot be used. Currently, the funding cannot be used to reimburse a loss in state government revenue, but that standard may change over time or in the next version of a COVID-19 relief bill.
Senate Appropriations Considers Essential Workers Grant: This week the Senate Appropriations Committee began working on legislation to create the Essential Workers Grant Program. The proposed program would provide grants up to $1,000 per month to individuals that perform essential jobs that expose them to an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 and earn less than $25 per hour. An employee must work for an employer deemed essential as defined by the legislation, and that employer must apply to the program for its employees to receive the benefit. Nursing home and home health employees would be exempt from the $25 per hour cap. The proposal would fund the program for three months and would cost an estimated $89 million. The committee will continue reviewing the proposal next week. The most recent draft of the proposal is available here.