‘We're Hurting:' Small Vt. Businesses Call on Legislature to Fast-Track Covid-19 Rescue Plan

Gov. Scott wants to use federal funds to send a lifeline to businesses hit hard by the pandemic

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While lawmakers in Vermont hash out details of a proposed rescue plan for businesses hit hard by Covid-19, some of the people that program would help issued an urgent plea for help Tuesday.

A coalition of businesses said their bills are piling up so high that some may not make it out of the crisis without faster action.

“We’re hurting,” said restaurant owner Jed Davis. “We’re hurting, just like everybody else.”

Davis owns seven restaurants in the Burlington area, including the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, El Cortijo and Bliss Bee.

He’s part of the coalition calling on state lawmakers to fast-track approval of a flexible Covid-19 financial relief and recovery package.

“There’s no shortage of need for the aid the state could provide,” Davis said.

Last month, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, proposed using $400 million out of Vermont’s share of the federal CARES Act to shore up battered businesses here.

“It’s our hope to get the money in the hands of the small businesses as soon as possible,” Vermont Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle said when the proposal was unveiled May 20.

Gov. Scott’s idea includes sending businesses grants to help cover rent and other costs, aiming to keep stores, farms, restaurants and more from closing permanently.

“We understand this is not enough, and I would anticipate we would need more in the future,” the governor acknowledged on May 20.

The rescue package, which also calls for funding for "staycation" promotions and other measures, needs legislative approval before any aid checks can go out. That is the process the businesses are hoping to speed up.

“If it doesn’t move ahead quickly, the outcome will be incredibly harmful, I think, to all of our industries,” Marty Mundy of the Vermont Cheese Council said Tuesday.

NECN took the group’s concerns to the leader of the Vermont Senate, Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden County.

“There’s certainly no delay,” Ashe said, telling NECN that committees are hard at work right now poring over details.

Sen. Ashe explained senators are looking not just for speed but to really get it right on the relief package, so the program can do the most good.

“In normal times, it would take four and a half months to figure out how to spend $400 million,” Ashe said, before noting the Covid-19 crisis has made these anything but normal times—upping his colleagues’ sense of urgency. “We know we have to move much more quickly.”

While that process continues, restauranteur Jed Davis sought to turn up the heat, with a clear warning.

“The cost of delay is small businesses closing,” Davis said. “We’re going to see that. We’re already seeing some businesses not reopen, and sadly there’s going to be more.”

Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, a Democrat, told NECN affiliate NBC 5 News that the House is also working hard on the matter. Johnson said she wants to make sure decisions about how to spend the funds are made in a way that maximizes their impact and usefulness.

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