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Business Not as Usual: Legislative Priorities for 2021
By Betsy Bishop, President of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and Charles Martin, Government Affairs Director of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce
It has been a challenging year for businesses across the country. Pandemic restrictions have significantly reduced occupancy and revenues. Small businesses in Vermont are struggling, and nearly every industry has been impacted. Some, like restaurants and lodging properties, were hit hardest. And the hits keep coming.
The pandemic, which started in spring of this year, continues, and Vermont remains in a state of emergency. This month, Vermont broke its own record for single-day COVID cases.
Throughout the public health crisis, legislators have listened carefully to businesses across the state and to the Vermont Chamber’s ongoing advocacy for swift relief.
Next week, the Legislature reconvenes, and the legislative cycle begins anew. At the Vermont Chamber, we have listened to our partners and 1,200 member businesses share their concerns, and this input has shaped our 2021 priorities.
- Additional Business Grants
It is certain that Vermont businesses need more help to reach a post-pandemic economy. In early November, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development estimated the existing unmet need of businesses to be around $500 million just through September 30. The scope of unmet need will grow as the pandemic continues to impact our communities, which means businesses will require additional federal aid to recover from fourth quarter losses and anticipated loss through the first half of 2021. We will urge the Scott Administration and the Legislature to release business grant relief quickly to avoid widespread, long-term, or permanent closures and subsequent waves of unemployment.
- Special Help for Restaurants & Lodging Properties
Understanding that the hospitality sector is severely impacted by operating and travel restrictions, the Vermont Chamber will work to advance specific restaurant and lodging relief legislation. Our advocacy will include pushing for support in the form of adjustments to alcohol-related regulations, consent legislation to ensure restaurants have approval over third-party apps that offer restaurant delivery, and reform of Vermont’s short-term rental (STR) regulations, including through the establishment of a STR registry.
- Unemployment Insurance Relief
With the pandemic has come widespread unemployment, and Congress has been instrumental in providing recipients extended and enhanced benefits. It is anticipated that a rate hike from the lowest rate to the highest rate will be set in July. The Vermont Chamber will encourage the passage of a bill to prevent that rate shock by setting a limit for any rate increase in a 12-month period.
- Increased Investment in Child Care & Broadband
For immediate and long-term economic health, Vermont’s economy would greatly benefit from additional investment in child care and broadband infrastructure. While these critical needs were important prior to the pandemic, the last several months highlighted the severity of these issues. We believe that the massive amount of investment for these issues must be a priority for federal funding. Without substantial investment from Congress, Vermont would need to increase taxes to a level that is not sustainable for our businesses, our workers, and all Vermonters. We must prioritize these needs for federal funding to help our rural economy recover.
Addressing these outlined needs is essential to ensuring the health of our local communities and Vermont’s economic future. We will continue to work with state and federal legislators, our partners, and Vermont’s business community to make progress in 2021 on these important issues.