Vermont Governor Phil Scott announced two new grant programs to help the agriculture and health care sectors survive the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Scott also extended the State of Emergency designation for another month in a Tuesday press conference.
"This is the vehicle we need to keep certain protections in place to keep the economy open and manage the ongoing crisis," Scott said Tuesday. "As long as the data stays consistent, we will incrementally lift restrictions and get closer to a point where this order is no longer necessary."
The grant programs include $35 million in federal funding for both dairy and non-dairy farmers and forestry to help offset the financial impacts of COVID as well as $275 million in a new health care provider grant stabilization program.
Both sectors can submit applications starting Friday, July 17.
Health care providers of every size and type are encouraged to apply. Applications will remain open until August 15 to submit COVID-related expenses incurred between March and June. Another application cycle will begin in October for expenses incurred from June to September.
Since March 1, Vermont has lost 25 dairies, according to officials. The rolling average before the pandemic was 1.5 dairies lost per month. There are now a total of 688 dairies in the state, and officials urged all of them to apply for the grants.
The grant program establishes a $25 million package for the dairy industry, with $21.2 million available for dairy farmers and $3.8 million for dairy processors. Another $5 million is available for non-dairy farmers and $500,000 for fairs and field days that were forced to close due to the pandemic.
Applications must be submitted to the state's Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets by the Oct. 1 deadline. Checks will be mailed about two to three weeks after applications are reviewed and eligibility is confirmed.
Officials also announced that they plan to release new guidance for long-term care facilities in order to ease restrictions and improve quality of life for residents. The guidance will outline a phased approach to restarting nursing homes and other facilities based on coronavirus testing levels.
Scott urged residents to continue to wear masks, maintain physical distance and proper hygiene.
"It's important to remember, even as we're seeing better results here in Vermont, that they can change quickly if we don’t remain vigilant," Scott said. "If we use common sense and take responsibility for ourselves we can continue to safely restart the economy."
The Tuesday press conference follows Scott's announcement last week that $30 million in housing assistance is on the way for renters, landlords, and homeowners struggling during the COVID-19 crisis.
Two funding programs were established to help Vermont residents facing housing difficulties as part of $85 million in federal coronavirus relief funds. He described it as "a step forward to address serious issues."
"I know many Vermont families and landlords are struggling and this won't be enough and won't address all their needs but we'll continue to look for ways to support them so we can survive this once-in-a-century crisis," Scott said Friday. "It's critical we keep moving forward so we can recover as a state and nation, and recovery starts with everyone having a safe and secure place to call home."
As of Monday, $25 million in rental assistance became available for both tenants and landlords through the Rental Housing Stabilization Program. The money can be used for a variety of reasons including past due rent, security deposits, and first/last months rent.
Starting this week, tenants and landlords can apply for help through the Vermont State Housing Authority. Applications are on a first-come-first-served basis.
The other program provides $5 million in mortgage assistance. Vermont's new Mortgage Assistance Program will help low-income homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgages and are facing economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Up to three months of mortgage payments can be paid. There is an income requirement and they must have missed at least two months of payments since March. It's not for second-homeowners. Applications will also be first-come-first-serve and are available through the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.
These two programs represent a portion of the housing support passed, Scott said, and other programs will be highlighted at future press conferences.
Scott also called on pharmacies and their parent companies to join a boosted testing effort "as quickly as possible," last week.
"As we've seen throughout the country, the virus is still with us and will be until a vaccine is widely available," he said.
On Monday, the Vermont Health Department reported 6 new positive cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to 1,301. The death toll remains at 56.