April 2, 2021
On Tuesday, the Senate passed S.79 which contains provisions to establish a statewide short-term rental (STR) registry. While STRs contribute positively to Vermont’s economy, they operate in a relatively unregulated environment. The pandemic put a fine point on what can happen during a public health crisis when unlicensed properties providing overnight accommodations remain anonymous and state officials do not have the means to contact them. Registration is a necessary first step to improve communications and would also provide data if the State chose to enforce health and safety regulations in the future. The bill moves to the House for continued dialogue and efforts to pursue safe overnight accommodations for the traveling public by creating equity between licensed and unlicensed properties. For questions, please contact Vermont Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear.
The Senate passed S.10 after narrowly approving changes to the bill that would increase Vermont unemployment insurance (UI) benefits by an estimated $5.2 million in ongoing annual costs. In response to concerns from the Vermont Chamber and others in the business community, the Senate made improvements to the bill by removing provisions that would have increased weekly UI benefits by 20 percent, a potential $35 million cost for businesses. This is a positive development, as it addresses concerns about creating UI benefits that would, in many instances, be more lucrative than the unemployed individual’s previous wages or salary. However, the legislation does not remove 2020 from the calculation of the UI Trust Fund balance size, which is of paramount importance to Vermont businesses. The Vermont Chamber will continue to advocate for a result that does not impart unsustainable cost increases on employers. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with questions or concerns.  
Responding to changes made in the Senate, the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development advanced new changes to H.315, the COVID-19 relief legislation that includes a $10 million grant program for businesses. The proposed grant program is intended to provide bridge funding to businesses that suffered a loss in 2020 and require immediate State aid. Previous changes would have narrowed eligibility to businesses that received no prior state or federal assistance. The latest adjustments advanced in the House will enable businesses that received some relief but are still able to demonstrate overall losses, to be eligible for additional relief after an initial period of eligibility limited to businesses that have previously not received state or federal aid. The Vermont Chamber testified in support of this grant program, and we continue to urge the Legislature to finalize the program so that businesses struggling because of the pandemic can access relief now. 
Last week, the House passed child care legislation that would provide immediate investments to support Vermont’s economy and set goals over the next several years to achieve affordable access to high-quality child care. H.171, now under review in the Senate, calls for significant child care investments. There is common agreement about the need, but less attention has been concentrated on the cost of these goals. Current estimates range from $200 to $500 million. One alternative to burdening Vermont taxpayers with this important but expensive benefit is a federal solution. President Biden has proposed a massive caregiving plan with up to $775 billion in investment. Earlier this week, the Biden Administration suggested that this bill would not see immediate action, mostly because some of the investments were included in the recently passed Relief Act which will increase the child tax credit up to a $3,600 per qualifying child. Observers acknowledge that this expanded benefit will quickly become a popular program, making it difficult to let it expire. If Congress allows it to continue, it may go a long way to avoiding a Vermont-based tax increase for child care. 
The Senate Committee on Finance voted unanimously to take advantage of a change in federal health care policy that could result in millions of savings in health care costs for small businesses. The Vermont Chamber urged them to act quickly so this opportunity will be in effect for the next health plan year. An American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) provision expands premium subsidies for individuals purchasing their own health insurance on Vermont Health Connect. That has sparked an effort to separate the individual and small group insurance markets. With the new regulations in ARPA, there are added premium subsidies, protecting individuals from higher costs. The downside to separating these markets is that ARPA protections are only in place through 2022, so the rates may increase again if Congress doesn’t extend this provision. However, a one-year health insurance cost reduction would certainly help businesses, especially as they try to recover from the pandemic-induced economic downturn. 
Every month, the Vermont Department of Labor releases an unemployment and jobs report, and the focus is usually on the unemployment rate, currently at 3.1% which is close to the rate reported at the same time last year. Though this number may imply that Vermont is quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels of employment, the latest labor force participation rate highlights the dire reality for Vermont employers. Vermont lost over 30,000 people from the workforce in the past year. Employers experienced a tight labor market long before the pandemic, with gap of 10,000 available workers. The Vermont Chamber has started to catalog job openings to show that there are entry level jobs paying above $15/hour going unfilled in every Vermont county. Tell us about your open jobs, your creative recruiting strategies, and changes you’ve made to survive with the lack of workers to help us sharpen our advocacy for a more sustainable approach to unemployment and workforce development as we work toward economic recovery.
  • Infrastructure Bill up Next Addressing Roads, Bridges and Broadband: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been vocal in urging the Biden Administration and Congress to address infrastructure as their first priority after pandemic relief, even building a diverse coalition of over 300 organizations unified in calling for action by the Fourth of July. However, they are concerned that a general tax increase on corporations will fund this rather than paying for it over time.

  • Immigration Bills Could Create Path to Citizenship for Dreamers and Farmworkers: In Washington, DC, the House passed two bills that could create a path to citizenship for dreamers, farmworkers, and other qualifying immigrants that already reside in the United States. Closer to home, Gov. Phil Scott also called for the federal government to resettle more refugees in Vermont, pointing out the need to address Vermont’s demographic challenges and add more people to our workforce. The House-passed bills in Congress may have a difficult time passing in the Senate but action there could certainly help Vermont welcome more new Americans. 
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 for new vaccine eligibility in Vermont and the recording from this week's seminar in our Virtual Policy Series, featuring Director of Community Planning at the Department of Housing and Community Development Chris Cochran and Housing and Community Development Commissioner Josh Hanford. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
This Edition Sponsored By:
Want great exposure for your business? Sponsoring the weekly newsletter is an affordable and effective way to reach your target customers. Email Megan Bullard for pricing and information.
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.

Vermont Chamber of Commerce, 751 Granger Road Barre, VT 05641, 802-223-3443© 2018