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VCDR Legislative Summary October 8, 2020

VCDR Legislative Update – October 8, 2020

On Friday, March 13, the VT Legislature adjourned until March 24th due to concerns over the Coronavirus. The Governor and his administration and the House and the Senate started to work on how the State would address the pandemic crisis, pass a budget, and complete the legislative session given the dramatic health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

Both the House and the Senate passed authorization to allow for committees to take votes remotely, and for the bodies to meet while maintaining public access. The Legislature has been meeting remotely through the end of September.

In June the legislature allocated over one billion dollars in federal COVID Relief Funds (CRF)   in a number of bills and a Quarter1 Budget to start the State fiscal 2021 year beginning on July1st, 2020. In August they came back to pass a full year’s budget ($7.2 Billion) and allocate the remainder of the $1.25 billion dollars in federal aid.

On Friday September 25th the Legislature passed the FY 2021 budget along with some other bills and adjourned until January. The infusion of CRF funds to combat the effects of the pandemic, increase Medicaid funds, transfers, and tax surpluses allowed the State to pass a balanced budget with using only a small amount of the reserves and without major reductions. The Fiscal Year 2022 budget is expected to be much more challenging.

Although Vermont has suffered the same ill effects as all states did during the pandemic, Vermont has continued to do a good job of keeping COVID-19 infection rates the lowest in the country. Because of the “small state minimum” Vermont also received the second highest per capita amount of COVID Relief Funds which has helped us with our response to counter the health and economic effects of COVID in our State.

The CRF funds are allocated for COVID related expenses and could not be used to replace lost revenues. The money also needs to be spent by December 30. At this time Congress has not yet appropriated additional federal aid or extended the time to use these funds past December 30. If additional funds become available the budget authorizes “the Governor, with the approval of the General Assembly or the Joint Fiscal Committee if the General Assembly is not in session, may allocate all or any portion of such federal funds for any purpose consistent with the purposes for which the basic appropriations in this act have been made.”

Below please see links to the COVID Relief Fund allocations from all legislation passed this session, and highlights from the FY 2021 budget including federal and general fund dollars. Federal relief was allocated for: Health Care, Hazard Pay, Human Services, Economic Relief and Recovery, Housing, Broadband, K-12 Education, Local and State Governments, State Colleges, and other. The FY 2021 Budget also spent general fund dollars for those existing services and programs that did not qualify for COVID Assistance.

Some Highlights of the FY 2021 budget include:

**General Fund Highlights and Language in Budget:

  • Level funds Human Services for the most part without major reductions
  • Appropriates $5m for equity payments to Vermonters left out of federal stimulus payments
  • Replace $40K grant for Outright Vermont
  • Woodside: Closure of facility in October, requires long term plan for serving justice involved youth
  • Restores small but impactful cuts in the Human Rights Commission and Councils on Arts and Humanities
  • Funds needs in Court Diversion, Defender General and State’s Attorney
  • Continues funding for the Community High School of Vermont from General Fund
  • Restores funding for low income Microbusiness Development and VT Matched Savings Programs

**COVID Relief Fund Highlights:

  • Up to $3 million for Designated Agencies and Special Service Agencies for COVID expenses
  • Funds EMS workforce, health disparities
  • $22.5m Hazard pay expansion and correction ($50.5m total)
  • Prek-12 Ed adds $53m for schools (total schools CRF now $103M)Funds Meals on Wheels rate increase and Adult Days to keep viable through fall and reopening
  • $102.5 million for Business Grants, marketing, stimulus to Unemployment Insurance recipients There are numerous language sections in the budget that relate to the funding and policy in the areas of Public Safety and Mental Health, Youth and Justice, Woodside, and Justice Reinvestment.

**CARES Act Funding and Genera Funding in the Budget and others Bills from June:

  • DDAIL – Blind & Visually Impaired $100,000
  • DDAIL – Adult Day Providers $2.5
  • $2M to Vulnerable Populations as determined by a needs-based assessment including families receiving Reach Up, older Vermonters, and individuals with a disability
  • Supports for New Americans, Refugees, and Immigrants $700K
  • Mental Health Peer Warm Line $200,000 to the Department of Mental Health for a grant to Pathways Vermont to operate its peer warm line 24 hours per day until December 30, 2020
  • Vermont Foodbank; Food Insecurity $4.7M for purpose of addressing food insecurity throughout the State, including purchasing necessities
  • Agency of Education Director of Racial Equity for training in equity and inclusion
  • Vermont Legal Aid $ 300,000
  • $12 M for Child Care Providers, Summer Camps, Afterschool Programs; Parent Child Centers; Children’s Integrated Services
  • AHS for Legal Aid: $150,000 related to justice services response
  • Agency of Education; Summer Meals for Children $12M of a previous $50M for distribution to Summer Meal Sponsors
  • Department of Corrections $2.5
  • DPS for Accelerated Broadband Connectivity including Wi-Fi hotspots
  • VT Community Loan Fund for minority and women-owned business

The pandemic has highlighted and intensified the ongoing racial, social and economic inequities that exist in this state and the nation especially among the most vulnerable populations. Low paid essential workers, families with children, seniors and people with disabilities have faced additional challenges related to the COVID crisis. The legislature and the administration did focus on addressing the needs of those Vermonters along with other pressing issues.

There are numerous programs to assist Vermonters with rent, utility arrearage, evictions, food security, unemployment insurance, business grants and other that can be found on the State and non-profit websites. An economic equity stimulus program (H.968) that provides stimulus payments to migrant workers and others that did not qualify for the original federal program was rolled into the budget bill.

In addition to the budget bills, coronavirus relief bills, and specific program legislation to assist Vermonters with COVID relief, the Legislature did pass a number of policy bills with regard to Older Vermonters, Global Warming Solutions, and Racial Equity and Police Reform among others. (See links below).

Earlier in the legislative session the House and Senate passed both the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill (H.107) and the Minimum Wage bill (S.23). The Governor vetoed both bills. The House was unable to override the Paid Family Leave veto, but was successful in overriding the Governor’s veto on the increasing the Minimum Wage bill, so the bill did become law (Act 86).

Three racial justice bills were passed by the House and Senate. S.24 directs the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to develop a long-term strategic plan to address systemic racism, bias, and diversity and inclusion in the Department of Corrections with a focus on recruitment and training; S.119 modernizes statutory standards for use of force and makes these standards enforceable in a court of law and S.124 expands the Criminal Justice Council to include people representing BIPOC communities, people with lived experience with mental health conditions or psychiatric disorders, and a mental health crisis worker.

The governor signed the FY 2021 Budget bill (H.969) on October 2nd. The Legislature and the Administration worked very closely on putting this bill together.

It will take a week or so more before all of the bills that passed are signed and act summaries are published, but you can find those on the links provided below.

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Please find below links to the Budget Documents; Legislation of Interest; Helpful COVID Websites; and Articles of Interest.

 **FISCAL YEAR 2021 BUDGET DOCUMENTS

Joint Fiscal FY 2021 Budget Documents                   https://ljfo.vermont.gov/subjects/appropriations-and-budget/fy-2021

All COVID Relief Funds Appropriations by Category and Bill https://ljfo.vermont.gov/assets/Uploads/179293d737/All_CRF_appropriations_by_category.pdf

H.969: Committee of Conference Highlights (FY2021) September 25 https://ljfo.vermont.gov/assets/Uploads/b5a2f2a846/H_969_Conference_Comm_highlights.pdf

H.969 New Coronavirus Relief Fund Appropriations https://ljfo.vermont.gov/assets/Uploads/eae678ae7a/CRF_totals_side_by_side-COC.pdf

H.969 Committee of Conference Report (FY 2021 Budget) https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/Docs/CALENDAR/sc200925a.pdf

H.965 (ACT 135) Explanations for health care- and human services-related appropriations from the Coronavirus Relief Fund https://ljfo.vermont.gov/assets/Uploads/7fe1824bac/H_965_Memo_Rationale_for_HC_HS_CRF_appropriations-v3.pdf 

**LEGISLATION OF INTEREST:

S.352 An act related to Hazard Pay https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/Docs/BILLS/S-0352/S-0352%20House%20Proposal%20of%20Amendment%20Unofficial.pdf

H.611 An act relating to the Older Vermonters Act https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.611

H.968 Economic Stimulus Equity Program (As passed by the House – was rolled into the Budget Bill) https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.968

H.688 Global Warming Solutions Act https://legislature.vermont.gov/Documents/2020/Docs/BILLS/H-0688/H-0688%20As%20Passed%20by%20Both%20House%20and%20Senate%20Unofficial.pdf

 **RACIAL EQUITY AND POLICE REFORM LEGISLATION:

 S.24 An act relating to a report on racial equity and bias in the Department of Corrections                            https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.24

S.124 An act relating to governmental structures protecting the public health, safety and welfare   (Governor signed)                      https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.124

S.119 An act relating to a statewide standard and policy for law enforcement use of force (Became law without Governors signature)https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.119

**PAID FAMILY and MEDICAL LEAVE and MINIMUM WAGE:

H.107 An act relating to paid family and medical leave – (Governor’s Veto was sustained) https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/H.107

S.23 (Act 86) An act relating to increasing the minimum wage – (Governor’s Veto was overridden) https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/status/2020/S.23

**HELPFUL COVID ASSISTANCE and OTHER WEBSITES

VT Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living https://dail.vermont.gov/novel-coronavirus-information

Vermont Legal Aid                                                       https://vtlawhelp.org/coronavirus-updates#unemployment

State of Vermont Department of Children and Families https://dcf.vermont.gov/COVID-19

Vermont Community Action Agencies               https://dcf.vermont.gov/partners/caps

Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development https://accd.vermont.gov/COVID-19

VERMONT COVID-19 ARREARAGE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM https://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/vermont-covid-19-arrearage-assistance-program-0?fbclid=IwAR3jGn2r8d5xYoqfpHJhgMwnU3tw9AtMB41uEG5orzWr0bfaHsGlhq_2kyg

 **ARTICLES OF INTEREST:

Vermonters falling further behind on their utility bills, in spite of aid money By Amanda Gokee Sep 25 2020, 1:20 PM https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/25/vermonters-falling-further-behind-on-their-utility-bills-in-spite-of-aid-money/

Vermont Lawmakers Adjourn After a Long, Strange Session POSTED BY KEVIN MCCALLUM ON FRI, SEP 25, 2020  https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2020/09/25/vermont-lawmakers-adjourn-after-a-long-strange-session

Legislature adjourns, ending historic session defined by Covid-19 By Xander Landen and Kit Norton Sep 25 2020 https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/25/legislature-adjourns-ending-historic-session-defined-by-covid-19/

Vermont Budget Deal Came Together After Marathon Negotiation  BY KEVIN MCCALLUM ON FRI, SEP 25, 2020  https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2020/09/25/vermont-budget-deal-came-together-after-marathon-negotiation

Senate OKs budget with increased funding for schools, hazard pay program By Xander Landen Sep 17 2020               https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/17/senate-oks-budget-with-increased-funding-for-schools-hazard-pay-program/

Scott lets police use of force bill become lawBy Kit Norton Oct 7 2020 https://vtdigger.org/2020/10/07/scott-lets-police-use-of-force-bill-become-law/

**HELPFUL COVID ASSISTANCE and OTHER WEBSITES

VT Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living https://dail.vermont.gov/novel-coronavirus-information

Vermont Legal Aid                                                       https://vtlawhelp.org/coronavirus-updates#unemployment

State of Vermont Department of Children and Families https://dcf.vermont.gov/COVID-19

Vermont Community Action Agencies               https://dcf.vermont.gov/partners/caps

Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development https://accd.vermont.gov/COVID-19

VERMONT COVID-19 ARREARAGE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM https://publicservice.vermont.gov/content/vermont-covid-19-arrearage-assistance-program-0?fbclid=IwAR3jGn2r8d5xYoqfpHJhgMwnU3tw9AtMB41uEG5orzWr0bfaHsGlhq_2kyg

 **Articles of Interest:

Vermonters falling further behind on their utility bills, in spite of aid money By Amanda Gokee Sep 25 2020, 1:20 PM https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/25/vermonters-falling-further-behind-on-their-utility-bills-in-spite-of-aid-money/

Vermont Lawmakers Adjourn After a Long, Strange SessionPOSTED BY KEVIN MCCALLUM ON FRI, SEP 25, 2020 https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2020/09/25/vermont-lawmakers-adjourn-after-a-long-strange-session

Legislature adjourns, ending historic session defined by Covid-19 By Xander Landen and Kit Norton Sep 25 2020 https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/25/legislature-adjourns-ending-historic-session-defined-by-covid-19/

Vermont Budget Deal Came Together After Marathon Negotiation BY KEVIN MCCALLUM ON FRI, SEP 25, 2020 https://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2020/09/25/vermont-budget-deal-came-together-after-marathon-negotiation

Senate OKs budget with increased funding for schools, hazard pay program By Xander Landen Sep 17 2020               https://vtdigger.org/2020/09/17/senate-oks-budget-with-increased-funding-for-schools-hazard-pay-program/

Scott lets police use of force bill become lawBy Kit Norton Oct 7 2020 https://vtdigger.org/2020/10/07/scott-lets-police-use-of-force-bill-become-law/

**LEGISLATIVE WRAP-UPS

VT Care Partners Legislative Update October 7th https://vermontcarepartners.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Legislative-update-for-October-7-2020.pdf

Public Assets Vermont – Budget Summary Perspective https://publicassets.org/blog/fiscal-2021-budget-provides-some-help-to-vermonters-left-behind/

Submitted by Karen Lafayette, VCDR Coordinator

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