At the start of the pandemic last year, it became clear that along with significant challenges posed, there were new opportunities to reevaluate Vermont’s needs and invest in our future. The Vermont Chamber identified specific critical needs for working Vermonters in child care, broadband, and housing. During the past legislative session, we saw substantial investment in these areas through a child care bill, $150 million allocated for broadband expansion, and $190 million allocated for housing.
However, when it came to providing immediate support to recovering businesses, the Legislature failed to help in a meaningful way. Only $30 million in relief grant money was allocated for Vermont businesses. That is not nearly enough. In December, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development estimated the known unmet need of employers to be $500 million. The Legislature also advanced a $100 million tax on employers to fund increased unemployment insurance benefits. This new tax runs counter to the efforts of businesses working to recover from the pandemic and rehire staff.
Legislators deserve credit for supporting several Vermont Chamber priorities that made it over the finish line and will help businesses recover from the pandemic:
- Taxing PPP loans prevented
- Unemployment insurance rate increase reduced
- New Montreal office will strengthen Vermont’s ties with Canada
- Incentives to attract remote workers will continue
- Massive health care savings passed for small businesses
- Alcohol to-go will continue
- Harmful cloud tax prevented
- Millions in tourism marketing money secured
While we celebrate these advocacy wins and historic investments in Vermont’s child care, broadband, and housing infrastructure, it is unacceptable that legislators did not advance substantial immediate relief for our state’s businesses. When legislators return for the next session, there is still money on the table: $514 million of Vermont’s American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funds have not been appropriated. Significant funding should go directly to helping Vermont’s businesses, which are operating at severe losses and still struggling because of the pandemic. The year ahead holds continued challenges, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure our state’s business community recovers and our economic future is bright.