March 19, 2021
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs advanced legislation that would increase Vermont unemployment insurance (UI) benefits by an estimated $50 million because of provisions that raise weekly UI benefits and provide a new dependency benefit. If implemented, the increases, coupled with additional federal benefits, would mean a large number of workers in Vermont would make significantly more on unemployment than if they return to work. While the bill was scheduled for a vote by the full Senate this week, concerns over the negative impact the legislation could have on economic recovery prompted the Senate to take more time to consider the proposal. The Vermont Chamber will continue to work toward a solution that is sustainable to employers and does not exasperate the economic struggles employers impacted by the pandemic are currently grappling with. You can share your concerns with your Senate delegation by contacting them at the avenues provided here. If you have questions or would like help contacting your Senators, email Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs reviewed potential changes to a $10 million COVID-19 relief grant program recently advanced by the House. The House proposal would prioritize businesses that have not received COVID-19 related assistance from State or federal sources, with eligibility expanding to other businesses after an initial 30-day period of restricted eligibility. The Vermont Chamber previously testified in support of this grant funding and worked with impacted businesses to communicate to the Legislature why a business may have not been eligible for past relief programs. Changes to the new grant program proposed in the Senate would narrow eligibility for accessing funds exclusively to businesses that did not receive any relief grants in 2020 and would require the use of not yet accessible American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to finance the program. ARPA resources may not be available for distribution in the form of relief grants for weeks or months. Changes made by the Senate will largely undo the original purpose of the funding proposal by delaying the distribution of grants and severely narrowing the scope of the relief program. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for an outcome that expeditiously provides much needed financial relief to businesses that need it most.
The House finalized H.159, a comprehensive economic development bill the Vermont Chamber previously testified in support of. The wide ranging package includes a likely $2 million boost for a Tourism Marketing Promotion Fund within the Department of Tourism and Marketing, enhancements to Vermont’s postsecondary career and technical education system, funding for a contractor to provide supports for the BIPOC business community, provisions that would consolidate and allocate additional resources for workforce recruitment programs, additional funds and changes to the Better Places Program within the Department of Housing and Community Development, and funds to support expansion of Vermont’s tech sector. Additionally, the omnibus legislation authorizes the funding and contracting of a Canadian foreign trade representative firm to generate foreign direct investment leads and prospects for Vermont in the areas of aerospace, biotechnology, and renewable energy and provide Vermont with statewide representation in Québec. The legislation requires approval in the Senate, where further changes are anticipated. 
During the Vermont Chamber’s Virtual Policy Series with legislative leaders, Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski raised the critical need to address the underfunding of the state pension system. Her recent op-ed explained the urgency of the issue and outlined the facts. Krowinski has suggested that any reforms shouldn’t impact employees close to retirement or existing retiree benefits but going forward a systems change could include an injection of one-time funds to partially address the unfunded liability, an element of risk sharing between the state and employees, and changes to plan administration to create more active and transparent oversight. At the Vermont Chamber Economic Conference, State Treasurer Beth Pearce presented her latest pension report, providing her perspective on her recommended changes. The Vermont Chamber supports the focus on pensions by both Pearce and Krowinski and appreciates their prioritization of the long-term financial health of the pension system to relieve the larger impact on the state budget. Passing an action plan to address change will allow conversations around the investments in our economic future including workforce training, broadband, housing and child care, all components of a thriving economy. 
During testimony delivered by Department of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy began review of Act 250 legislation recently introduced in identical forms in the House and Senate. The legislation would, among other changes, reform the Natural Resources Board (NRB) and provide certain municipal areas an exemption from Act 250 jurisdiction. If implemented, the changes would help facilitate responsible development in municipal areas, which would contribute to the creation of additional affordable housing in Vermont. The Vermont Chamber continues to support the modernization of Act 250 to facilitate a more predictable and less costly permit process, while also ensuring Vermont’s natural resources are properly protected. These latest legislative proposals would help to achieve that goal. If you have questions or would like help contacting legislators to offer support for the proposal, please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin.  
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce is collecting resources for employers and businesses throughout Vermont, produced by the Chamber and externally. View this week's roundup to view steps employers can take to help communities reopen and recover and the recording from this week's seminar in our Virtual Policy Series, featuring U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
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In business since 1912, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce is a private, not-for-profit business organization with 1,500 members employing 45,000 people and representing all sectors of the state's economy. Our mission is to create an economic climate conducive to business growth and the preservation of the Vermont quality of life. Copyright ©2018 The Vermont Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.

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