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Thursday, November 19, 2020

More Than 35,000 Vermont Workers Will Get Hazard Pay

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2020 at 12:28 AM

From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson at a press conference last week - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson at a press conference last week

Roughly 35,600 frontline workers in Vermont will get hazard pay for filling essential roles during the pandemic, Finance Commissioner Mike Pieciak said Wednesday evening, hours after the extended deadline for companies to apply for a final round of grants passed.

Legislators allocated the aid from federal CARES Act funds, saying that people who put themselves at risk while others hunkered down at home deserve the money.

An initial round of grants targeted health care workers; a more expansive round that concluded Wednesday included businesses such as retailers, childcare facilities and pharmacies.

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Monday, November 16, 2020

Vermont's Hospitality Industry to Get $75 Million in Aid

Posted By on Mon, Nov 16, 2020 at 5:43 PM

Church Street Marketplace earlier this year - FILE: LUKE AWTRY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Luke Awtry ©️ Seven Days
  • Church Street Marketplace earlier this year
Vermont lawmakers approved $75 million in additional relief for the state’s hospitality industry over the weekend as surging COVID-19 cases dimmed the state's winter business prospects.

Restaurants, bars and lodging businesses were already among the businesses eligible for grants of up to $300,000 under a $76 million economic recovery program that the legislature approved over the summer.

But officials feared the hospitality industry, as it faces new restrictions and an uncertain holiday season, needed an additional lifeline, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development.

“It’s really going to be hard for them to get through the winter, and we just thought this was the best way to help them survive,” Goldstein said Monday.

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Thursday, November 12, 2020

As Deadline Looms, Senators Pressure Businesses to Apply for Hazard Pay

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2020 at 8:29 PM

From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson - PAUL HEINTZ ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Paul Heintz ©️ Seven Days
  • From left: Sen. Michael Sirotkin, Sen. Tim Ashe and Sen. Chris Pearson
A trio of state senators on Thursday urged some of the largest businesses in Vermont to help their employees obtain cash payments for working during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state's Frontline Employees Hazard Pay Grant Program provides up to $2,000 to those who worked in certain fields during a two-month period from March to May and earned less than $25 an hour. In order for employees to qualify for the program, however, employers must apply and identify them.

Speaking at a press conference Thursday afternoon outside a CVS Pharmacy in downtown Burlington, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) criticized businesses that had yet to do so. "There have been some employers who have not stepped up," he said.

Ashe, who was joined by Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) and Sen. Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden), called out eight businesses in particular that he said had not yet applied. Thousands of Vermonters could miss out on payments, Ashe said, "because someone somewhere in a far-off office is unwilling to take literally a few minutes of administrative time to verify which employees are eligible."

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Friday, November 6, 2020

Walmart Blocks Vermont Workers From Hazard Pay Program

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2020 at 1:18 PM

A Walmart worker - COURTESY OF WALMART
  • Courtesy of Walmart
  • A Walmart worker
Walmart says it will not apply for Vermont state hazard pay grants for its frontline workers, citing employee bonuses it gave instead earlier this year.

In a statement to Seven Days, Walmart said it believes Vermont's program is meant for small and medium employers "who might be unable to pay a similar bonus.

"We hope those funds can be more appropriately used by those employers," the statement said.

A Vermont employee unhappy with the situation alerted a group of state lawmakers, who issued a press release Thursday slamming the big box store for its decision. The five senators, including Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D-P/Chittenden), called Walmart's refusal to apply for the program "cruel" and "unthinkable."

"These are the most loyal employees. They were there at the worst imaginable time at work," Ashe said. "On behalf of those workers, we're desperate for them that Walmart change course."

Also signing the letter were Sens. Cheryl Hooker (D/P-Rutland), Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) and Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden).

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Vermont Allows Ski Resorts to Open With Quarantine Rules in Place

Posted By on Tue, Nov 3, 2020 at 3:28 PM

Skiers on a lift at Stowe Mountain Resort, pre-COVID - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur ©️ Seven Days
  • Skiers on a lift at Stowe Mountain Resort, pre-COVID
State officials on Tuesday gave Vermont's ski resorts their blessing to reopen. But looming large over the new COVID-19 safety guidelines is an essential question: Who will be able to come?

More than three-quarters of Vermont resort guests travel from out-of-state during a typical season, but a surge of coronavirus cases in the region is rapidly changing how many — if any — visitors will be able to do so this season without a lengthy quarantine before or upon traveling to the mountain.

According to the state's new weekly travel map unveiled on Tuesday, only 330,000 combined residents from four rural counties in Maine, one in New York and one in Pennsylvania can travel to Vermont without quarantining. Everyone else must spend 14 days in quarantine at home or in Vermont; they can shorten the period by testing negative for the virus a week into quarantine.

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Friday, September 18, 2020

Scott Lifts Booking Limits for Lodging, Opens Bar Counters

Posted By on Fri, Sep 18, 2020 at 3:15 PM

  • Vermont Department of Financial Regulation
Vermonters will be able to sidle up to the bar for a drink, but chit-chat at the counter may be a little awkward.

Bars may resume counter service, Gov. Phil Scott announced on Friday, as long as patrons sit six feet apart and businesses install a clear plastic barrier between customers and bartenders.

Also on Friday, Scott said hotels can now book 100 percent of their rooms. They'd been operating at a 50-percent cap since June.

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Monday, September 7, 2020

Vermonters Swarm Website in Search of 'Buy Local' Coupons

Posted By on Mon, Sep 7, 2020 at 5:54 PM

The #BuyLocalVermont website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The #BuyLocalVermont website
Updated at 1:37 p.m. on September 8, 2020.

Vermonters hoping for a free $30 coupon redeemable at local businesses mobbed a state website Tuesday morning, leading to delays. 

The #BuyLocalVermont website went live at 11 a.m., and more than 10,000 people sought access to the coupons in the first hour, said Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

At Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference on Tuesday, Kurrle said “the system is working” but the verification codes needed to access the coupons were “still a little delayed” due to the high level of interest.

“We’re just asking for folks’ patience, and hopefully those codes will be coming your way very shortly,” Kurrle said.

The electronic coupons are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and there is enough money in the program for 14,166 Vermonters to receive them.

The idea is to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to have people redeem their coupons and spend even more than $30, said Nate Formalarie, director of communications for the Vermont Department of Tourism. 

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Friday, August 21, 2020

Scott Wants Gift Cards, Biz Grants in Next Round of COVID Relief

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2020 at 6:08 PM

  • Tim Newcomb ©️ Seven Days
The bulk of Vermont's remaining CARES Act funding should be used to help heal the state's ailing economy, Gov. Phil Scott said Friday. To accomplish that, he wants to send every Vermont household on a shopping spree.

Scott plans to press lawmakers to spend another $133 million in federal coronavirus relief dollars to support Vermont employers in direct and indirect ways, including by offering $150 gift cards for residents to use at local businesses.

"We need to focus like a laser on helping these businesses, and the jobs they provide, survive," Scott said at a press conference.

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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Burlington, Richmond Trash Drop-Off Centers Remain Shuttered

Posted By on Sun, Aug 9, 2020 at 9:00 AM

The gate at the Burlington drop-off facility - MATTHEW ROY ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Roy ©️ Seven Days
  • The gate at the Burlington drop-off facility
Burlingtonians who are growing weary of schlepping their trash outside city limits may have to abide a bit longer: Operators of the Pine Street drop-off center don't know when it will reopen.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District closed the Burlington facility and four other drop-off centers in March after staffers were potentially exposed to the coronavirus. All of the centers — except Burlington's and Richmond's — have since reopened, with physical distancing protocols.
Located across from Citizen Cider, Burlington's facility is one of CSWD's smaller centers, which makes social distancing more difficult, spokesperson Alise Certa said. Customers have to get out of their vehicles to dump their waste.

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Federal Furloughs Would Impact More Than 1,100 in Vermont

Posted By on Thu, Jul 2, 2020 at 9:26 AM

A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
A federal immigration agency will furlough more than 1,100 Vermonters next month in response to a looming budget deficit, according to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who implored his colleagues Wednesday afternoon to pass a new relief bill that could prevent the temporary job losses.

"These are men and women who day after day do important work for the nation," Leahy said in remarks from the Senate floor. "They've continued to do that work every day even during the COVID-19 pandemic. And even though they've been doing the work loyally and effectively, after August 3rd, they can no longer do their job; they no longer will receive a paycheck."

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has more than 19,000 employees whose main tasks include processing requests for asylum, immigration benefits and American citizenship. Vermont hosts one of the nation's five USCIS service centers, with 1,700 workers located mainly in Essex and St. Albans.

The agency had warned for weeks that it would need to furlough employees in response to the pandemic, but it had not confirmed exactly how many Vermonters would be impacted. That revelation came last Friday, when the agency sent furlough notices to 13,350 of its employees, 1,111 of whom are Vermont workers, Leahy said.

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