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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott wants to send a $150 debit card to every household in Vermont, with the requirement that they "buy local" at a Vermont business.

Scott unveiled his "Buy Local" plan Friday during his twice-weekly press conference, which is focused on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The $150 per household card would be part of a $133 million economic stimulus plan that Scott outlined to help the ailing sectors of the Vermont economy, particularly the lodging, food and beverage and tourism industries.

People aren't spending money in Vermont, the governor said, and they aren't coming to Vermont, even as there are restrictions on travel

Earlier this week, one large tourism draw, the FIS World Cup ski race at the Killington Ski Area held after Thanksgiving was cancelled.

The Legislature has already appropriated $240 million that was earmarked for economic stimulus from the $1.2 billion CARES Act federal funding. Scott's latest proposal would take $133 from the remaining $200 million set aside for economic stimulus.

The $133 million plan to boost the Vermont economy as fall and winter tourism seasons approach, which must be approved by the Legislature, includes $50 million for the lodging and dining sectors of the economy. These businesses have been particularly hard hit during the economic shut down, he said, as well as the $50 million "Buy Local" plan.

Other parts of the $133 million plan include $23 million for economic recovery grants and $10 million to be used to promote Vermont tourism.

Scott said the $133 million is part of Vermont's $1.25 billion CARES Act share, and regulations on the federal funds prohibit direct payment to individuals, hence the card to be spent to help stimulate the Vermont economy.

Scott said he was very concerned about the continuing impact on the Vermont economy, and the lack of tax revenue that such a lagging economy won't produce.

While more people have returned to work, Vermont's unemployment is at 40,000 people, and Scott said the state had submitted its application that morning to the federal government to help supplement the unemployment insurance now that the $600 weekly bonus payment from the federal government has expired.

In addition to the economic stimulus plans, Michael Smith, the secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said that recent testing revealed single cases of COVID-19 at two Vermont long-term care facilities - Helen Porter Memorial Hospital in Middlebury and Wake Robin retirement community, which is located in Shelburne.

Smith and Dr. Mark Levine, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said additional testing was being done of staff and residents of the two nursing facilities.

Smith said of the 58 Vermonters who have died of COVID-19, half were residents of long-term care facilities and the state is moving quickly to determine the extent of the possible outbreak.

Levine said that as more and more college students return to Vermont, it was all but inevitable that there would be COVID-19 cases.

Scott said it was up to the individual colleges and universities to enforce health mandates designed to curb and control the spread of the virus. He said local college communities have the power to enact stricter measures than currently set by his administration, in order to address local concerns about the potential spread of the virus.

Now is not the time, Levine said, to relax or let up on the preventative measures that has given Vermont the lowest positivity rate of all the states in the country.

People should wear masks, keep 6 feet or more distance from each other, wash your hands repeatedly and stay home and away from others if feeling ill.

"Do all the right things," he said.

Levine urged people who are tempted to relax their vigilance to "consider the risk" of coming in contact with someone who has the virus.

It wouldn't take much, he said, for Vermont "to lose that distinction" of having the lowest rate of positive tests in the country with careless behavior, he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com


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