Legislature agrees on $84.5 million for job training, business grants and forgivable loans

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Statehouse
The dome of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpellier. File photo by Glenn Russell for VTDigger

House and Senate delegates agreed on a compromise on Tuesday that gives Gov. Phil Scott the bulk of the nearly $100 million he wanted in economic development and labor funds. .

The compromise provides money to subsidize the training of thousands of Vermonters as they change careers or start new ones, to provide businesses and nonprofits with grants and forgivable loans in the hope that to create more jobs, and to help businesses keep their employees on the payroll if another Covid wave hits the state.

Scott had requested nearly $100 million for a series of proposed economic development and labor programs.

The Legislative Assembly budget allocates a total of $114.5 million for labor and economic development. Lawmakers agreed to $84.5 million of that amount at S.11 on Tuesday, with an additional $30 million set aside in a budget deal reached Monday.

One of the most significant funding is for the Capital Investment Program, which lawmakers renamed the Community Recovery and Revitalization Grant Program. The program provides grants for projects aimed at maintaining or growing businesses and nonprofits, attracting new businesses or nonprofits, and creating jobs, with preference given to projects in communities whose the tax base is shrinking or stagnating. Nothing in the program actually requires jobs to be created for the money to be distributed.

Scott had requested $50 million for the program. The compromise bill, S.11, affects $10 million. But the separate budget bill, H.740, earmarks an additional $30 million for the program, for a total of $40 million. Additionally, the House and Senate compromise allocates $9 million to creative economy businesses, for a total of $49 million in grants to businesses and nonprofits.

“Does this mean that there is no longer any right of veto? Sen. Alison Clarkson, D-Windsor, asked hopefully as attendees hammered out the compromise bill Monday night.

At noon on Tuesday, Scott sounded optimistic but evasive.

“They’ve come a long way, and I really appreciate the work, especially with the economic development bill,” Scott said during his weekly press conference.

The governor warned he didn’t know all the details, but said the Legislative Assembly was moving in the right direction. “There is a way forward there,” he said.

Lawmakers found some of that extra $9 million for creative economy businesses by scrapping the Senate’s proposal to provide an extra $25 a month for the unemployed. The compromise bill still proposes to increase unemployment benefits, but it would instead do so by increasing the maximum benefit by $60 a week over the next three years. Since that money comes from the unemployment trust fund and not federal stimulus money, the compromise proposal frees up $8 million that would have gone to the extra $25 a week.

That $8 million will also help fund two other programs: a Covid relief fund to help businesses that try to keep employees on the payroll after exhausting their paid time off but have to stay home for health-related reasons. Covid, and a program proposed by the governor to provide short-term forgivable loans to Vermont Economic Development Authority businesses.

Scott had requested $20 million for the loan program. The Legislative Assembly has appropriated $19 million.

The compromise provides $15 million for the Covid relief fund for businesses. Speakers agreed to House restrictions on how companies can use the money: no more than 40 hours reimbursed per employee, no more than $21.25 per hour for any employee, and no more than $850 in total per employee.

The fund will also be active for the period the House wants, which is July 1 to June 30 of next year, as opposed to what the Senate wanted, which was for the whole of 2022. This means companies will not be able to seek reimbursement for expenses they incurred during the Omicron wave as they struggled to keep workers on the payroll.

The Chamber had sought to kill a program promoted by Scott that pays people to move to Vermont. In the compromise, the program will receive $3 million, half of the $6 million the Senate wanted. Another $4 million for marketing to people considering moving to Vermont, which was favored by both the Senate and the administration, was cut entirely.

The compromise provides millions of dollars, agreed to by the House and Senate health care committees, for training people in health care fields. It includes $2.5 million for healthcare providers for programs that help healthcare workers transition into nursing, an additional $2.5 million to repay loans to people entering health care and $2 million in grants to support nurse educators.

House and Senate delegates signed the bill and shook hands on Tuesday afternoon. The bill is expected to be introduced in the House on Wednesday.

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