Vermont General Assembly Establishes COVID Paid Leave Grant Program

Montpelier, Vt. (May 12, 2022) – The small business community and members of Main Street Alliance and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility applaud the Vermont General Assembly on the passage of S.11, a workforce and economic development bill that would establish a program to provide wage replacement for workers experiencing loss of work for reasons associated with COVID-19.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermonters everywhere have been asked to stay home and isolate or care for others in the event of an exposure – and by and large Vermonters have risen to the occasion, not only to keep themselves safe, but to keep those around them safe as well.

At the height of the pandemic Congress acted to give businesses tools to ensure employees have the financial security to stay healthy and whole. The federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) required 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 which partially covered the costs of providing this benefit. These credits were later expanded with the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for those who voluntarily provided leave.

All told, Vermont businesses utilized approximately $45 million in FFCRA credits to cover the costs of providing paid leave to their employees, however the federal program expired as of September 30th of 2021 – leaving them to either pay for these benefits out of pocket or eliminate them entirely.

At the start of the legislative session, which coincided with the height of the Omicron surge, over 100 small businesses and nonprofits and over 500 workers from throughout the state signed on to a letter of support to the legislature to establish a Covid Paid Leave Grant Program.

One of those employers was Randy George, co-owner of Red Hen Baking Co. in Middlesex. In response to the passage of S.11, he said: “All of us at Red Hen Baking Co. applaud the legislature for listening to our small business community and our workers by passing this bill and establishing the COVID Paid Leave Grant Program. This will be a lifeline for workers in all sectors, but in particular, we know this will provide critical relief for Vermont’s service workers who have shouldered such a heavy load these last two years. We are grateful for the legislature’s strong acknowledgment of the financial burdens associated with COVID-19 and we thank them for showing a commitment to supporting our workers’ financial resiliency and security.”

Additionally, signee and supporter Eric Sorkin, co-owner of Runamok in Fairfax said: “I am once again so thankful to live in Vermont and grateful for a government that works for us. Today’s passage of a Covid Paid Leave Grant Program means that Vermont small businesses have the support they need to ensure that workers have the financial security to put health and safety first.”

As written, S.11 would appropriate almost $15.2 million dollars for a program that would run from July 1st, 2022, through June 30th, 2023. This program would provide up to 40 hours of COVID paid leave for a worker at 100% wage replacement up to $21.25/hour. Employers can apply for this program on a quarterly basis.