April 30, 2021
The Vermont Chamber testified in the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development on S.62, legislation intended to expand Vermont’s workforce, attract new residents to the state, and provide support to employers who are unable to fill positions from among candidates who are already located in Vermont. The legislation specifically authorizes the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to award relocation grants for qualifying expenses of up to $5,000 for base grants and enhanced grants of up to $7,500 for relocating employees who become residents in certain labor areas. During testimony, the Vermont Chamber highlighted the workforce shortage crisis facing nearly every sector and emphasized the need for the Legislature to continue working to enact programs to recruit new workers to Vermont. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with questions.
The Vermont Chamber and other business advocates testified in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs to request an increase in business relief grant funding. At the end of 2020, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development estimated there was $500 million in existing known unmet need throughout the Vermont business community. In 2021, the Legislature has advanced only $10 million in relief for businesses impacted by the pandemic-related economic downturn and mandated closures. Governor Scott has requested an additional $50 million to be allocated to begin addressing the remaining need, however the Senate advanced only $20 million in economic relief grants as part of their Fiscal Year 2022 budget plan. The Vermont Chamber is calling for the Governor’s request to be fully authorized with additional authorizations to permit replenishing relief program funds in the future. Our testimony also cautioned the Committee against narrowing eligibility for future state relief programs based on federal relief programs, like the Restaurant Revitalization Fund which is promising for certain sectors but has not yet allocated resources to Vermont businesses.    
The Vermont Department of Labor announced this week that the work search requirement for unemployment claimants will be reinstated beginning on May 9. Every week that individuals claim unemployment insurance, they will be required to conduct three qualified job contacts. The Vermont Chamber advocated for and supports the reinstatement of the work search requirement, with important exemptions for individuals who cannot safely return to work for health- or child care-related reasons. Vermont employers are currently struggling with a labor shortage across industries. The hospitality industry is short an estimated 9,000 employees. The ability for employers across the state to rehire furloughed workers and hire new employees is critical to a successful economic restart. Even before the pandemic, Vermont’s workforce was not large enough to satisfy demand for unfilled positions. Reinstatement of the work search requirement for unemployment claimants, which was appropriately suspended in 2020, will help Vermont secure the workers needed for economic recovery. Reach out to Charles Martin with questions. 
This week, the Vermont Chamber worked with longtime member The Tyler Place to advocate for an expedited process for J-1 Visas for eight workers from the United Kingdom that are critical to the success of this multi-generation family resort that hosts nearly 70 families each week, employing hundreds of staff. In 2019, Vermont hosted 1,792 international college students who worked in seasonal positions, providing critical support to local businesses. In 2020, only 22 participants were able to come to Vermont. Normally, over 70% of Summer Work Travel participants would have visa appointments by now. This year, it is less than 5%. The Vermont Chamber is advocating to expedite this process so that lodging properties and other hospitality businesses across the state can take full advantage of the ability to welcome tourists this summer and fall. If you hire J-1 Visa holders, please contact Vermont Chamber Membership Engagement Director Sophia Yager to provide a status update so that we can support your business.
The Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs voted unanimously to advance H.313 which contains provisions to modernize Vermont’s liquor laws including allowing the sale of alcoholic beverage for off-premises consumption for first, second, third, and fourth-class licensees until July 1, 2023, a reduction to $230 for 3rd class licensing fees for Vermont distillers, and elimination of the requirement for 48-hours written notice to be given to the Division of Liquor Control for promotional tastings for licensees and for staff participating in the promotional tasting to be off duty for the rest of the day. The bill now moves to Senate Finance. Please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with questions or concerns. 
On Thursday, the Senate passed in concurrence H.89 which makes providers of agritourism activities immune from civil liability if a participant is injured as a result of risks inherent in the activity and the provider has posted a warning about those risks. The bill heads to the Governor’s desk, and if signed into law would align Vermont with other states and put agritourism on a level playing field with other related industries in Vermont such as equine and ski areas in terms of limiting liability. Please contact Amy Spear with questions. 
During testimony in the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, the Vermont Chamber expressed support for cost-saving adjustments to Senate-passed S.10. The Committee proposed changes to the Senate bill that include removing 2020, an anomaly year, from consideration when the Department of Labor computes unemployment insurance tax rate schedules. Removing 2020 from calculation of the fund will save employers considerable costs over the coming years, while also ensuring the unemployment trust fund remains solvent. The Vermont Chamber’s testimony supported this change because employers were not responsible for the circumstances that caused the high rate of furloughs in 2020 and removing 2020 from fund calculations would mitigate sharp increases in future mandatory fund contributions by employers that would typically result from regular furloughs. Please contact Charles Martin with questions or concerns. 
The Senate has advanced the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. The spending plan includes allocations from state coffers and federal resources provided to Vermont in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. ARPA spending specifically includes $23 million for workforce investments, $56.5 million in economic development, and $101.8 for broadband and connectivity improvements – all Vermont Chamber priorities. The remaining ARPA funds identified are provided for public health improvements, housing, higher education, and infrastructure projects. You can see a full breakdown of ARPA spending here, including authorizations for top Vermont Chamber priorities like $2 million in support for tourism marketing and funds to hire a Canadian foreign trade representative firm over a period of two years to generate foreign direct investment leads and prospects for the State in the areas of aerospace, biotechnology, and renewable energy, and provide Vermont with statewide representation in Québec.
Many businesses and residents have accumulated large overdue utility bills over the last year of the pandemic, but relief may be on the way. The Senate Committee on Appropriations included $15 million in their version of the budget to provide relief for overdue bills caused by the economic hardship of the pandemic and the Vermont Public Utility Commission‘s extension of the state’s disconnection moratorium through the end of May. The $15 million has not yet been approved by the House and will likely require a budget conference committee and consideration by the Governor, who has expressed disapproval of the Legislature’s budget plan to leave nearly $500 million of COVID relief funds unallocated until 2022. The Vermont Chamber supports providing this utility debt relief to help businesses and residents recover from pandemic-related economic downturn and will work to support this funding during final budget negotiations.
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 learn how to apply for the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, watch a recording of our event this week with Senator Patrick Leahy, and more. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
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