Last week the state of Vermont, feeling the pressure of the stagnant economy and backlogs of unemployment claims, saw some progress in getting Vermonters back to work. On Friday at a press conference Governor Phil Scott announced that the state is ready to make “small steps” to reopening the state for business. Still feeling the weight of the Covid-19 pandemic the Governor cautiously reopened businesses in a few professions. These openings do not by any means mean “business as usual”, but rather just an attempt to get people back working and the economy to start seeing some movement.
The professions opening back up include low contact professional services like realtors, appraisers, municipal clerks, and attorneys. Outdoor businesses like property management crews and construction worker firms with two person crews will also be allowed to go back to work as long as they follow some strict guidelines. Those guidelines include working six feet apart and wearing face masks in public. The Governor also alluded to an opening date of May 1st for farmers markets to begin to reopen.
Vermont is also making national headlines with Governor Phil Scott’s easing of restrictions and allowing certain businesses to head back to work. Our very own state senator, Senator Corey Parent, went on Fox and Friends, a national news outlet to discuss how Vermont was doing during this pandemic. Senator Parent did a great job outlining the steps the state has taken to become one of the least hit of the pandemic. As I’m writing this right now Vermont has only seen 35 deaths resulting in coronavirus, although unfortunate deaths are, the numbers are much lower than states surrounding us. Governor Phil Scott and his administration have done a phenomenal job protecting Vermonters during this crisis.
On Friday we also received another major announcement from the Vermont State Colleges. They recommended closing three Vermont colleges - Northern Vermont University in Johnson and Lyndon as well as the Vermont Technical College Randolph campus. They cited financial problems that hit the system long before the Covid-19 outbreak as a reason for closure. This announcement seemed to shock the residents of this state and flooded our legislative emails, Facebook chats, and cell phones with messages and pleas to help save the colleges facing closure. There were two main concerns with the potential closings: loss of economic drivers in the rural communities and the loss of over 500 jobs. The large response prompted the VSC to delay their vote.
The biggest issue I’ve heard about from constituents is regarding unemployment insurance. This past weekend, Governor Phil Scott working with State Treasurer Beth Pearce mailed over 8,300 $1200 checks to people having issues with unemployment insurance. There is still much work to be done as the Vermont Department of Labor and the Agency of Digital Services attempt to fix issues that have prevented tens of thousands across the state from collecting their benefits.
The House Committee on Education will be meeting on Tuesday and Thursday of this week and the entire House is expected to vote on a proposal to vote remotely by the end of the week. The goal is to allow the Legislature to pass Covid-19 related legislation without having to meet in person and risk spreading the disease. Our work since mid-march has been done remotely from our home computers and leadership’s goal is to be able to conduct business from afar safely.
We still have a long way to go as a state. Our financial problems are evolving and starting to show clear signs of issues ahead. Our Education funding is short while eighteen schools haven’t even passed a budget. We have a lot of work ahead of us as a legislature. If you ever have any questions, comments or concerns, please reach out to me at [email protected]. Stay safe everyone.
Representative Casey J. Toof
Franklin 3-1 St. Albans