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This past year has proven what we have long known to be true: Vermonters are resilient and know how to come together to get through tough times. While we should all be proud that our brave little state has led the nation in responding to COVID-19, the all too familiar stories of working families and small businesses hurt by the pandemic are devastating. While in some instances we know the toll this pandemic has had on our families, businesses and communities, in many other instances we are still learning. Now is the time to listen to Vermonters.

That is why this summer, I will be spending my time in our communities meeting directly with Vermonters impacted by the pandemic. Together, we will identify the additional resources needed by working families, businesses, communities and non-profits to not only recover, but recover stronger from COVID-19.

Because of the hard work of our Vermont Congressional delegation, especially Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Senator Leahy, Vermont is set to receive an historic $2.7 billion in relief through the American Rescue Plan Act. While the Legislature has allocated some of these relief funds, we continue to have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make strategic investments that align our budget with our greatest needs and values. We can get this right if we listen to Vermonters.

We know, for example, that our Vermont employers are struggling to recruit and retain employees and this pandemic has exacerbated our workforce development challenges. We also know that our working families, especially Vermont women, continue to have to choose between work and caregiving without adequate access to childcare or paid family and medical leave. Finally, we know that access to work, education and healthcare may, even beyond this pandemic, be linked to the ability of every Vermonter to access affordable, reliable broadband.

It is often said that from crisis comes opportunity. This summer, we will take stock of lessons learned from this pandemic and capture stories of innovation, perseverance, and resilience. Throughout this pandemic, our communities, non-profits, and innovative businesses have often served as laboratories for creative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. From deploying vaccines to addressing food insecurity and other emergency assistance, we are working together in new ways. While it is hard to imagine, there may be ways in which this pandemic has led to positive change at the local level that can be replicated throughout the state.

It would be a missed opportunity to let the lessons learned from this pandemic pass us by. To embrace this opportunity and to make investments that serve the needs of our communities, we have to center the experiences and voices of Vermonters in the process. This summer, I look forward to doing just that.

Community meetings and opportunities to connect during our Recover Stronger Tour will be shared in local papers throughout the summer. You can also contact me directly with your pandemic story, or recovery idea at ltgov.vermont.gov or follow along at @LtGovGray. I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in your community!

Molly Gray, D, serves as the 82nd Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.