May 7, 2021
The House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development advanced changes to S.10. The most recent adjustment removes 2020, an anomaly year, from consideration when the Department of Labor computes unemployment insurance (UI) tax rate schedules. Removing 2020 from calculation of the fund will help to hold employers harmless from certain costs related to the pandemic and government-mandated shutdowns, while also ensuring the unemployment trust fund remains solvent and UI claimants are not negatively impacted. The legislation is now under consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means. The Vermont Chamber supports the Committee’s change because employers were not responsible for the circumstances that caused the high rate of furloughs in 2020. Please contact Vermont Chamber Government Affairs Director Charles Martin with questions or concerns. 
The House and Senate have both passed S.88 legislation that takes advantage of a change in federal health care policy and will result in millions of savings in health care costs for small businesses while protecting individuals from rate increases in their premiums. Rate filings for 2022 were due today, and Blue Cross Blue Shield’s rate filing indicates an unprecedented decrease of 7.9% for small employer premium rates. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) expanded premium subsidies for individuals purchasing their own health insurance on Vermont Health Connect. With that new protection available, the legislation separates this individual market from the small group market, allowing for businesses purchasing in the exchange to be rated on their own, without subsidizing the individual market. The action on S.88 is the result of the Legislature and Administration responding quickly to this federal change and the Vermont Chamber’s advocacy, which urged them to act to take advantage of these savings in the next health plan year. This bill will be before the Governor soon for his consideration, and he is expected to sign this legislation into law.
As part of Governor Scott’s $210 million economic development and reinvestment plan, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development’s proposal to establish a Business Attraction Investment Program has passed in both the Senate and House budgets. The proposed budget appropriation of $300,000 would be used to hire a Canadian foreign trade representative firm over a period of two years to generate foreign direct investment (FDI) leads and prospects for the State in the areas of aerospace, biotechnology, and renewable energy, and provide Vermont with statewide representation in Québec. In keeping with our record of working with Québec on cross-border trade and legislative issues and building the Vermont – Québec Aerospace Trade Corridor, the Vermont Chamber supports this initiative. To learn more, please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Business Development Chris Carrigan
The Vermont Chamber sent letters to Vermont’s congressional delegation that reflected the Vermont Chamber’s support for additional National Interest Exceptions, and J-1 Visa Waivers or Expedited Interviews for J-1 applicants supporting Vermont’s hospitality industry. Workforce shortages continue to impact Vermont’s economy and the hospitality sector is grappling with some of the most significant staffing challenges. Vermont’s hospitality businesses depend heavily on Summer Work Travel Program participants. Prior to the pandemic, Vermont annually hosted thousands of Summer Work Travel Participants. Only a handful of participants were able to come to Vermont last year, and many continue to face significant barriers and delays ahead of this summer’s tourism season. The letter encouraged the congressional delegation to alleviate delays in work visas, program applications, and interview processes so that individuals dependent on J-1 visas can continue to be part of Vermont’s community and businesses across the state can take full advantage of the ability to welcome tourists this summer and fall. For questions, please contact Charles Martin
In a letter to the Senate, the Vermont Chamber and other business organizations called for additional business relief grant funding and certain changes to currently proposed grant eligibility criteria. The Vermont Chamber recently 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. Please contact Charles Martin with questions. 
The House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs passed S.79 out of committee. The bill aims to improve rental housing health and safety and includes a statewide short-term rental registry. The Vermont Chamber has pushed for the establishment of a registry and advocated for its inclusion in the bill. Provisions contained within this bill would serve as an important step to ensure a safe rental environment. The registry will be a mechanism to improve communication with owners and operators and would provide data if the State chose to enforce health and safety regulations in the future. The bill will now be taken up by the House Committee on Ways and Means. Please contact Vermont Chamber Vice President of Tourism Amy Spear with questions.
In response to the publication of State House reopening recommendations presented to the Legislature, the Vermont Chamber testified in the Senate Committee on Institutions on the importance of ensuring the State House is open to the press, the public, and advocates. During testimony, the Vermont Chamber recommended that in-person operations not exclude members of the public. Over the last year, advocates and members of the press have repeatedly voiced concern about the possibility of legislators deliberating and making policy decisions off camera and out of the public view. The Vermont Chamber believes that to ensure full transparency and better enable public input on legislative proposals, it is imperative that legislators and the public can access the State House simultaneously when in-person operations resume. Members of the press weighed in on the issue earlier in the week, raising constitutional concerns about a potential scenario in which legislators are permitted to return to the State House while press and the public are excluded. Please contact Charles Martin with any questions or comments.
U.S. Chamber Senior Economist Curtis Dubay issued a report this week on the economic outlook for 2021. Overall, the economy is doing very well, and the data shows that most consumers are flush with cash due to savings during the pandemic, relief payments, and extra unemployment benefits. This trend, coupled with reopening plans, sets the stage for incredible economic growth, possibly exceeding 10% in Q2 although employment still lags behind pre-pandemic levels. Nationally, there are 7.4 million job openings, but workforce participation is still 8.4 million below pre-pandemic levels. This demonstrates the large skills and geographic mismatch that exists between job need and available workers. For a summary of Dubay's report, covering consumer sentiment changes, increased personal savings, unemployment insurance claims, and what recovery looks like for various industries, view our full article.
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 information on Vermont Department of Labor virtual information sessions focusing on the work search requirements for unemployment insurance, registration for our September 9 Manufacturing Summit, and more. To share helpful content for next week's resource roundup, send us an email.
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