Vermont Businesses Help COVID-19 Paid Leave Grant Program Become Law
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) and Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) partnered to advance a grant program whereby employers can be reimbursed for paying an employee’s lost wages in the event of absenteeism due to COVID-19
Montpelier, Vt. (June 13, 2022) – Last week, in a historic victory for Vermont businesses and workers alike, Governor Scott signed the legislature’s economic and workforce development omnibus, S. 11 – legislation that includes over $15 million in funding for the new COVID-19 Related Paid Leave Grant Program.
The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act offered critical financial lifelines to families in need by requiring businesses to provide emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for those impacted by COVID-19. In return, businesses received FFCRA payroll tax credits to cover the costs of providing this critical benefit. Unfortunately, these credits expired September 30th of last year – leaving businesses to either pay for these benefits out of pocket or stop offering them altogether.
After hearing from countless employers about the challenges of grappling with the continued impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely absences and lost wages, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) and Main Street Alliance of Vermont (MSA-VT) partnered to advance the COVID-19 Related Paid Leave Grant Program, formerly known as the COVID Worker Relief Fund – a grant program whereby employers can be reimbursed for paying an employee’s lost wages in the event of absenteeism due to COVID-19.
To muster a powerful voice for this initiative, MSA-VT and VBSR released a letter signed by over 100 employers and over 500 workers earlier this session. Thanks to this massive turnout and pressure from advocates in the statehouse, S. 11 appropriated $15.18 million in ARPA funds to the Department of Financial Regulation to administer the program.
“The passage of the COVID-related paid relief grant will allow us to pay Working Fields associates due to COVID-related missed work. This is extremely meaningful for so many of the individuals who are doing their best to live paycheck to paycheck, which is already a struggle,” said Mickey Wiles, CEO and founder of Working Fields, South Burlington. “To then get or be exposed to COVID-19 and not get paid only contributes to digging a deeper hole. We can now at least lift the financial burden of COVID-related issues.”
“I am so excited about the passing of COVID Paid Leave,” said Sonja Raymond, owner Apple Tree Learning Center, Stowe. “I own a child care program and while we have never closed throughout the entirety of the pandemic, between close contacts and personal and family COVID diagnoses, many of my staff have utilized all of their paid time off in the first six months of the year. Unfortunately, given our line of work, we have not been able to pay our staff beyond their allotted paid time off which means they are not able to take a much needed vacation or any additional sick time for their family members without going unpaid. This bill ensures that our staff will be able to use their personal paid time off for what it is intended: illness other than COVID-19, a vacation, or personal time.”
“Throughout the pandemic we have been dedicated to the health and safety of our employees. Managing disruptions to workforce availability is one thing, but the disruption to an employee’s income stability if they need to stay home can cause much longer-term challenges. We are so thankful to our legislators to pass and Governor to sign the COVID-19 Related Paid Leave Grant Program S.11,” said Eileen Mead-Belanger, Vice President of Human Resources at VSECU. “Now we have the safety net we need in place to maintain stability and enable our staff to make the heathy choice.”
The Department will award retroactive and prospective grants to employers who offer COVID-19-related paid leave or unpaid leave equal to 100 percent of the greater of minimum wage or the employee’s regular hourly wage times the number of hours reimbursed up to 40 hours with a maximum hourly reimbursement or $21.25, and maximum total award per employee of $850. Details on how to apply for these grants are forthcoming.
About Main Street Alliance of Vermont
Since its founding in 2014, MSA-VT has been committed to bringing business owners to the table to engage in developing and advocating for policies that reflect the interconnected nature of small businesses and the communities they serve. Small businesses are at the core of Vermont’s communities and their voices have helped drive change in building healthier communities and a Vermont that works for everyone. Learn more at www.mainstreetalliance.org.
About Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
VBSR is a statewide, non-profit business association with a mission to leverage the power of business for positive social and environmental impact. VBSR’s 650 member businesses and organizations strive toward a just, thriving, and transformative economy that works for all people and the planet through shared learning, building connections, and collective action. Learn more or join the cause at www.vbsr.org.