Senate Passes Community and Workforce Development Bill

Michael Sirotkin
Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, said the Senate added $20 million in forgivable business loans. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

The Vermont Senate on Thursday passed a sweeping bill to encourage community and workforce development that would allocate nearly $89 million to a range of initiatives, from paying people to move to Vermont to support for arts organizations affected by the pandemic.

The bill, H.159, now returns to the House to reconcile the differences.

The legislation has already been the target of criticism from Governor Phil Scott, who has sounded the alarm over the bill’s cut funding.

Scott’s spokesman Jason Maulucci said Thursday that it’s “too early to tell if the governor will sign off on the final product,” adding that “the bill currently pales in comparison to Scott’s proposed economic development agenda.” the Governor and as he deems necessary. ”

“The governor has proposed a $100 million plan to help grow the economy across the state, and particularly support rural areas that have experienced stagnation or decline over the past decade,” said Maulucci in an email to VTDigger. “They cut that necessary funding.”

Last year, the Legislature earmarked $10.5 million for the state’s Capital Investment Program, which provides grants to businesses and nonprofits for “transformative projects” that will encourage the investment and create jobs in every region of Vermont.

At a press conference on April 5, Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said her department had received 100 applications for $90 million in projects for child care centers, performance halls, museums, restaurants and breweries. So this year, Scott asked for an additional $50 million.

Sen. Michael Sirotkin, D-Chittenden, chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing, and General Affairs Committee, said the Senate added $20 million in forgivable business loans, which the governor requested.

Sirotkin said he would also like to add a $50 million federal tax cut for small businesses. The Senate Finance Committee will hear additional testimony on the proposal, and Sirotkin said it could still make its way into law.

Among other changes, Senate lawmakers amended the guidelines of a previous version of the bill for the state’s worker relocation program. In its current form, it would reimburse up to $5,000 for people who move to Vermont, and up to $7,500 if they move to an area with higher unemployment than the state as a whole or where average wages are lower than those of the state. a set.

Unlike previous versions of this program, the Senate version of the bill proposes that applicants be approved before moving to Vermont, but reimbursed only after they move. People could be reimbursed for moving costs, primary residence closing costs, rental security deposits and first month’s rent.

But this program may not survive in the House.

“The relocated worker rooms there are problematic for us,” said Rep. Michael Marcotte, R-Coventry, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. “And so that it can be eliminated. We are not sure yet.

Marcotte said his committee would likely amend the bill next week, after which the House would vote on it and send it back to the Senate.

The Senate version of the bill would raise the minimum wage from $12.55 an hour currently to $13.75 on Jan. 1 and $15 starting in 2024.

The Senate bill would allocate $16.5 million in federal funds to a Covid relief fund that provides grants to businesses that keep their employees on the payroll when they have to stay home due to Covid. Employers can be reimbursed up to 67% of an employee’s wages while they are sick or isolate or care for family members who must stay home due to Covid. The grants would cover up to 80 hours of absence per employee.

The Senate bill would also increase unemployment compensation by $25 a week starting July 1. Instead, H.159 sets aside an $8 million fund using American Rescue Plan Act federal dollars to pay for the additional benefit.

The Senate bill allocates $5 million to the Vermont Arts Council for grants to creative economy businesses and nonprofits that have suffered losses during the pandemic.
The bill would also allocate $26.9 million to address “critical needs” in nursing and skilled trades and to provide training opportunities for young adults in Vermont who want to learn new skills. These programs were passed by the House under another bill, H.703, currently before the Senate.

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