Vermont restaurants learned Wednesday they would be able to reopen for outdoor dining Friday, and also heard they are one of the many sectors that would receive financial support under a proposed relief package announced by Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.
The $400-million proposal is aimed at preventing some small businesses from collapsing under mounting losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott wants to use $310-million in federal funds for emergency relief to parts of the state economy hit hardest by COVID-19.
The package would include grants, based on past tax revenue records, to Vermont operations in agriculture, hospitality, retail, and other sectors.
That money could allow some to cover their rent or mortgages, to keep them from having to close for good.
"It's our hope to get the money into the hands of these small businesses as soon as possible," Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said.
The Vermont Legislature still needs to approve the plan, which has a second, $90-million phase focused on long-term economic development.
That money, like the funds used for phase one, will come from the money Vermont received under the federal CARES Act, Scott noted.
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"We understand that this is not enough and I would anticipate we would need more in the future," Scott said, adding that Vermont's Congressional delegation is working to secure additional federal aid for the state.
At the Church Street Tavern on the Church Street Marketplace, owner Steve Parent said he launched take-out dining Wednesday, now that foot traffic is picking up on the marketplace after this week's opening of nonessential retail stores.
"It's been very tough to be closed for two months, and your bills still keep coming in," Parent told NECN and NBC10 Boston. "So to have some sort of help would be greatly appreciated."
Vermont restaurants learned Wednesday they can reopen Friday for outdoor dining, but with restrictions to their capacity and operations.
They'll have to use call-ahead seating, disposable menus, and space tables far apart, with members of no more than two households allowed at each table.
A full list of health and safety requirements restaurants must meet is available on the state's website.
Among those requirements, eateries have to keep customer logs in case the Vermont Department of Health needs to do contact tracing—if there's a disease outbreak.
"We're very pleased to finally start seeing a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel," Parent said of his restaurant. "It's still dim, but we're hoping it'll get brighter as the days go on."
Vermont businesses are so dependent on weekend trips from nearby spots like Massachusetts that a more secure lifeline won't come until the governor determines that kind of travel is safe again.
However, part of the relief package does call for funding for in-state marketing for activities around the state to boost staycation trips for Vermonters.