BURLINGTON, April 9 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) held a series of meeting this week with Vermont small businesses, municipalities, and public libraries to discuss the recently passed American Rescue Plan (ARP). Over 500 Vermonters participated in these meetings with Sanders, with more than 112,000 other people tuning in to the livestream options.
The ARP, which passed the Congress in March, is bringing substantial federal funding to Vermont, including $1.3 billion in direct aid to state and local governments, critical assistance to small businesses, and over $2 million in additional funding for public libraries.
“We still have an enormous amount of work to do, but I think many would be surprised about what the federal government has been able to do to address this health and economic crisis,” said Sanders. “The American Rescue Plan was a major step forward. Now, we have got to come together to figure out the best path forward to help our state. Small businesses need to know how to access the programs that are out there. Towns have a huge source of revenue coming in and they have the challenge of figuring out how to best spend that federal money to address the problems we face. And our libraries, which are essential to our communities, must continue to find ways to develop the services Vermonters need, especially for our young people and our seniors, who have struggled so much during this pandemic. So, while there is a lot of work, I am very hopeful.”
Sanders first met with Vermont small businesses to discuss their experiences and what they need going forward to sustain their operations. The panelists discussed many issues, including the stress and uncertainty they face; the need for increased access to vaccines and personal protective equipment; how they have adapted their operations during the pandemic; the importance of the childcare sector in supporting employees returning to work and early learning; how the state and federal programs have helped; and the assistance that is still needed to support Vermont’s businesses.
A few of the business owners expressed that while new federal and state programs have greatly helped them, many businesses may not have the time or resources to navigate applying for assistance.
“As a sole proprietor not having employees to worry about, it’s easy enough for me to fall back on my haunches and do what I need to do to keep myself safe, keep my family safe and provide enough money coming in to meet my bills. At first I didn’t take advantage of any of the programs that were available. I didn’t have the bandwidth with everything that was going on at the time,” said Mujib Khaliq, owner of North Country Kettle Bells. “I have the mental fortitude and the wherewithal to go get what I need, but from speaking with colleagues who had to shutter their businesses, it’s a lot. There is so much weight on our shoulders with what’s going on right now.”
Vicky Senni, Director of Turtle Island Children’s Center said, “Thanks to federal and state financial support we have been able to survive. Financially we’ve been able to access funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program and state grants. We continue to operate because these programs have allowed us to do so. It’s important to note that not all child care centers have an administrative team to spearhead funding applications as we do. To even apply for programs that are out there takes quite a bit of time, energy, and resources that most childcare workers just don’t have.”
The experts who joined the event spoke of the new federal programs that are launching, their work to get funds out as quickly as possible, and explained how businesses could access state and federal assistance.
The following day, Sanders met with Vermont municipalities and libraries to discuss how they could use the additional federal funding coming their way to support our local communities. The municipalities discussion centered on the work towns have done to continue providing important public services, all while experiencing significant decreases in staffing and revenue. Many panelists spoke of the increased local and regional partnership that has occurred over the last year to ensure residents are connected to much-needed assistance. After the panelists’ remarks, Sanders asked about the most pressing issues facing Vermont towns. Public safety, economic development, water and waste water infrastructure, affordable housing, and accessible broadband were among the topics discussed.
Sanders also highlighted for the municipal leaders the opportunity to help young people this summer through new funding coming to the state to support summer and afterschool programming. The additional $71 million in funding, also included in the American Rescue Plan, will create new and expanded opportunities for all students – from kindergarten through high school – to support continued learning, provide career experiences and job training, as well as address the social and emotional needs of these young Vermonters. Sanders underscored that while these programs will be largely run through the schools, town governments, as well as parks and recreation departments, have an important role to play in helping make this summer a success for our young people.
Ted Brady, Vermont League of Cities and Towns Executive Director, said, “I couldn’t say enough about how meaningful this $198 million specifically coming to local governments is. This is the first time in 40 years that the federal government has given local towns this amount of unrestricted, or lightly restricted funding to help us deal with the problems we’re facing. The last year has been devastating to our municipalities, so to have Congress and the President recognize that is really meaningful.”
During Sanders’ roundtable discussion with Vermont libraries the panelists spoke of the services they’ve been able to provide throughout the pandemic such as expanded wireless internet access; electronic books and resources; curbside pick-up and book delivery; technology access; and virtual and outdoor programming. The library directors talked about the important role their institutions play in responding to the immediate needs of Vermonters, with many saying that they routinely called their patrons during the past year to check-in and offer assistance. The panelists remarked on the funding needed to improve library buildings and make them accessible to all, hoping that some of the federal money could help with their infrastructure, as well as enable them to provide even more programming for Vermonters.
Starr LaTronica, Director of Brooks Memorial Library, said, “Libraries are not just a place in the community, they are a pervasive presence that the community relies on. We know libraries can change lives. We see it every day.”
Sanders ended each discussion by thanking the Vermonters for the great work they have done in supporting our communities and state during an extremely difficult year. He also spoke of the need for continued federal assistance and his hopes for the next major piece of relief legislation.
“I want you all to know that the work of Congress is by no means over. With this next reconciliation bill we have a chance to not just deal with the emergency problems facing the country, but also with the structural problems,” said Sanders. “We’re going to deal with traditional infrastructure — roads, bridges, waste water systems — and if I have anything to say about it, with human infrastructure as well. That means health care, education, childcare, housing. Let’s go forward together.”
To watch the discussion with Vermont small businesses, click here.
To watch the discussion with Vermont municipalities, click here.