2021 Legislative Session Recap
On May 21st, Vermont’s first (and hopefully last) fully remote legislative session adjourned, following passage of a $7.35 billion budget for fiscal year 2022. The FY2022 budget, signed by Governor Scott on June 8th, includes nearly $600 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). As detailed below, the budget includes significant investments in many of VBSR’s priority areas for this session, including climate change, child care, and broadband infrastructure.
Lawmakers, staff, and the Scott Administration worked tirelessly throughout the year, orchestrating digital hearings and negotiating key issues while navigating health guidelines and federal funding. Advocates, businesses, and individual citizens rose to the challenge of a virtual session, engaging with the legislature by Zoom, letters, calls, and press conferences, and providing critical voices in the important discussions taking place in the virtual State House this year. VBSR would like to extend our gratitude to everyone involved in this year’s session; your engagement, creativity, and dedication to Vermont’s democratic process are both powerful and inspiring.
Climate and Clean Energy
Climate change remains a critical threat to our communities, ecosystems, and shared economy. Vermont has the highest per capita emissions in the Northeast region. Our lingering reliance on fossil fuels has not only kept pollution on the rise but has also stifled economic growth and opportunity. Recognizing the urgency to tackle the climate crisis and rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19, VBSR continued to work closely this session with our partners in the #ActonClimateVT Coalition to advance legislation and policy action to help meet Vermont’s emissions reductions requirements while creating family-sustaining jobs, stimulating local economies, and prioritizing the needs of Vermont’s marginalized communities.
Weatherization and Climate Investments
The final FY2022 budget included $50 million for weatherization and climate investments, including programs fromS.109, the Energy Savings Act, which were incorporated directly into the budget. The budget also included a provision stating the legislature’s intent to invest $250 million in climate action over three fiscal years (2022-2024).
The amount of funding invested in climate this session is an important step forward for the state, and the $250 million for future years was set as a floor, not a ceiling, for future funding. Highlights of this year’s climate and weatherization investments include:
- $23 million for weatherization.
- $10 million for a new “Affordable Community-Scale Renewable Energy Program.”
- $5 million for the Clean Energy Development Fund.
- $1.5 million for the Community Action Agencies to hire energy & financial advisors to work with low-income Vermonters.
- $1 million for Regional Planning Commissions to work with municipalities on weatherization.
H.433, the Transportation Bill, was signed into law on June 3rd. Transportation modernization was a key priority for VBSR this session and the final bill included the majority of the initiatives that VBSR and our partners championed this session. These include funding for programs to encourage adoption of electric vehicles, a new Replace Your Ride program, and support for electric bikes and public transportation.
VBSR has also continued to advocate for Vermont to join the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI)— a regional policy initiative that would put a cap on emissions from our transportation-sector, require fossil fuel companies to pay for the carbon pollution produced from the fuel they sell via purchasing annual allowances, and reinvest the proceeds to help participating states adopt cleaner, healthier, and more equitable transportation solutions. Vermont has been active in TCI discussions and policy development but has still not formally joined. TCI would not only help to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions, but strategic program implementation in Vermont would also provide an important opportunity to grow Vermont’s economy, create jobs, improve health outcomes, and address the transportation needs of rural and marginalized communities.
Vermont Climate Council
The Vermont Climate Council was established under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) of 2020. It includes representatives from rural communities, municipal governments, utilities, the fuel sector, clean energy sector, manufacturers, the small business community, farm and forest sector, youth groups, as well as a number of climate and energy scientists. VBSR member Kelly Klein, Founder/CEO of Groennfell Meadery and Havoc Mead, is the Council’s small business representative and a strong voice for the business community. For more information about the Council and links to past and upcoming meetings click here.
The Climate Council has been tasked with creating a Climate Action Plan by December 2021 to ensure that Vermont meets the GWSA emissions requirements. VBSR and our partners are working to support the work of the Climate Council and to advocate for an Action Plan that prioritizes our most vulnerable communities and builds a stronger, more resilient economy for all Vermonters. If you want to make your voice heard in this important discussion, you can provide input through the Council’s public input portal.
Although we are heartened by the progress Vermont has made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, VBSR recognizes that many businesses across the state are still struggling. As our members work to rebuild and recover, VBSR will continue to act as an advocate, educator, and convener to help give voice to the businesses, employees, and vulnerable Vermonters adversely affected by the pandemic to support a just and equitable recovery.
While the 2021 session saw far less funding for business recovery grants than 2020, the legislature and the Scott administration recognized that many Vermont businesses are still suffering as a result of COVID-19. In total, the state allocated $30 million for business recovery grants; $10 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds allocated in H.315 (Act 9) (the mini COVID relief bill), and $20 million from the FY2022 budget. This funding will be distributed through the Economic Recovery Bridge Program through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD). The program is intended to deliver financial relief to 1) businesses who have not received state and federal funding due to eligibility constraints and 2) businesses who have continued to lose revenue due to COVID-19.
The application portal for the Economic Recovery Bridge Program is live on the ACCD website and applications will be reviewed on a first-come, first-serve basis. The ACCD website details eligibility criteria and the application process in ten languages. If your business has suffered a loss due to COVID-19, we encourage you to visit the ACCD websiteto learn more about the Economic Recovery Bridge Program and other supports available.
Funding from H.159, the Economic Development Bill, was incorporated directly into the FY2022 budget. Two key economic initiatives that VBSR advocated for this session were the Better Places Program and the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) business network. The final budget included $1.5 million for the creation of a Better Places Program, which will utilize crowdfunding to spark community revitalization through collaborative grantmaking for projects that create, activate, and revitalize public spaces. The budget also included $150,000 to provide funding to convene BIPOC businesses, organizations, and community leaders to create a set of recommendations on how to support BIPOC business development, and to create a BIPOC business network and a minority business development center. Both of these initiatives will be developed by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD).
Other important economic development programs funded this year include: the Statewide Community Action Network’s Economic Micro Business Recovery Assistance for the COVID-19 Epidemic (EMBRACE), the Entrepreneurs Seed Capital Fund, and workforce development programs. The budget also incorporated support for higher education, including funding to the University of Vermont for the Office of Engagement and scholarship programs.
VBSR’s members have seen the impact that a lack of high-quality, affordable child care has had on Vermont’s workforce first-hand. Business owners and employees alike have long struggled to access high-quality, affordable child care, which has a direct impact on the ability of businesses to succeed and Vermont’s economy to thrive. In the wake of the pandemic, it is clearer than ever before that child care plays a critical role in Vermont’s economy.
H.171, the Child Care Bill, had strong support within the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Scott on May 21st. This was a landmark bill that VBSR supported in close partnership with Let’s Grow Kids. The bill includes provisions to reduce the cost of childcare for families to less than 10% of annual income and increase reimbursements to programs for subsidized care. It also includes funding to support training and loan repayment for early childhood educators. The FY2022 budget contains $12.7 million to fund the bill’s provisions. This legislation is an important step to building an equitable and sustainable child care system in Vermont, one that is universally affordable, accessible to all, and values the tireless work and expertise of our early childhood educators.
Ensuring universal access to broadband at speeds that meet the needs of the state’s business community is essential to economic growth and sustainability. H.360, the Broadband Deployment Bill, which establishes the criteria for the broadband deployment program, is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature. The FY2022 budget includes $150 million to fund the program. H.360 establishes a five-person Vermont Community Broadband Board that will award grants to inter-municipal Communication Union Districts and small communications
carriers for the build out of broadband infrastructure.
- Clean water: FY2022 budget allocated $120 million for clean water programs.
- Chemicals: 20, the bill that banned PFAS and other toxic chemicals from consumer products and firefighting foam in Vermont, was signed into law by Governor Scott on May 21st.
- Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Tax Repeal: The miscellaneous tax bill, 436, included language repealing the tax on PPP loans forgiven in 2021.
- Universal mail in ballot: 15, which requires mail in ballots to be sent to all registered voters in general elections, is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Thank your Legislators!
Our lawmakers’ work to support affordable child care, climate action, expand access to broadband, and respond to the economic and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic made clear their strong commitment to the businesses, communities, families, and environment of Vermont. VBSR would like to thank our legislators and the Scott administration for their work over the course of this historic session and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
How can you join us in thanking them?
Contact your legislators and say thank you! Policymaking can often feel like a thankless job, but with your help we can change that. Click here to find your legislator and reach out with a message of gratitude for their tireless work.