BRATTLEBORO — The $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, known as the American Rescue Plan, is set to bring $3.3 million to the town over the course of the next year.
“You know in Brattleboro just what you had to contend with,” U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said at the Select Board meeting held remotely Tuesday. “We’ve been through a lot.”
Welch said the local school district, Windham Southeast School District, will receive $9.4 million through the federal package. He noted there’s flexibility around uses for the funding, which he believes will have “a lasting impact” over the next few years.
Board member Daniel Quipp called the town funding “good for nonrecurring expenses, for transformative projects that we wanted to do that we have not been able to do that will benefit all strata of Brattleboroians.”
“Keep in mind, the ($3.3 million) is especially exciting because it’s a huge slug of money that has explicitly lots of flexibility attached to it and so there will be that decision-making process you go through,” Town Manager Peter Elwell told the board. “And that’s really cool. We almost never get that kind of opportunity and it’s also true that there’s going to be some other money flowing.”
Elwell expects the town to have chances to tap into federal or state COVID-19 relief funds for transportation projects and other specific purposes.
The new federal aid “really mirrors a lot of what we did in the CARES package over a year ago,” Welch said, describing it as an acknowledgement that “we still have a ways to go. And we don’t want to leave people, businesses and communities behind.”
“It provides help to individuals with the $1,400 checks so a lot of folks in Brattleboro will have received that by now,” he said. “It continues unemployment benefits through September. It continues the Payroll Protection Program funds that have been helpful to many of our businesses. And of course, it has significant money so that the cost of vaccines won’t be borne by local communities or the state. That’s a federal responsibility.”
Welch called monthly $300 checks for families with children, known as a Child Tax Credit, “a godsend.”
“It’s estimated that will reduce childhood poverty by 50 percent,” he said. “And this, you know, is so needed.”
He said members of the Vermont delegation in Congress supported including aid for communities and states.
Welch heard from leaders of groups looking to get help through earmarked stimulus funding for community projects.
Kay Curtis, board president for Tri-Park Housing Cooperative, said her group’s mobile home parks provide “essential affordable housing” for about 800 people or 8 percent of Brattleboro’s “most needy households.”
Adam Hubbard, owners’ representative for the group, said many of the homes were built in a flood zone before flood maps were created and 20 of the homes were destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“Now, the infrastructure is 60 years old and needs to be replaced,” he said. “We’ve done a nice job getting a master plan in place but these residents really need help.”
Josh Davis, executive director of Groundworks Collaborative, spoke about the Healthworks ACT Project — a collaboration between his group, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Brattleboro Retreat and Health Care & Rehabilitation Services. ACT stands for “assertive community treatment,” he said.
“This project stems from the recognition, it’s been long held but reinforced in the pandemic, that our current health care model is not effectively serving our community members who are facing homelessness,” he said.
Davis said the program is meant to offer care related to addiction, mental health and homelessness by having health care workers and peer support embedded at Groundworks shelters and facilities.
“It holds promise to reach our community’s most vulnerable residents, reduce involuntary crisis interventions, reduce pressure on our emergency response system and most importantly save lives,” he said. “So we think it’s a wise investment that’s going to reduce health care costs.”
The cost for a full month of care for a participant in the program is roughly equivalent to one day spent in a hospital emergency department or psychiatric hospital, Davis said.
“I hope you’ll consider this,” he told Welch. “I know you’ll have a list of things and it will be tough to choose from.”
Also vying for funds are a workforce development program at the Retreat and a project related to the nuclear waste at Vermont Yankee in Vernon. Representatives scheduled to share information did not at appear at the meeting.