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Gov. Scott requests federal disaster funds

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has asked for federal disaster funds to reimburse the state for costs connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, which currently stand at more than $20 million and are expected to rise significantly.

Scott's request, dated April 6, asks for federal Public Assistance funds for costs incurred in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Individual Assistance, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance and Crisis Counseling Assistance/Regular Services Program for all Vermont counties, according to a media release sent Tuesday by Scott's office.

This would come through President Donald Trump approving a major disaster declaration for the state.

Scott's letter to Trump, dated April 6, outlines the state's response to COVID-19 thus far, including social distancing measures, a call for medical volunteers and the establishment of multiple medical surge facilities.

"This is a massive effort for the State of Vermont, and a race against time," Scott said in the letter.

If granted, this disaster assistance would provide a 75-percent reimbursement to state and local governments and some nonprofits for emergency protective measures, including actions taken to save lives and protect public health and safety, according to the release.

"...The COVID-19 disaster is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments," Scott said in his letter. "Federal assistance is absolutely necessary to ensure the health and safety of all individuals in Vermont."

The Vermont Department of Finance and Management has advised that the state has already expended well over $20 million in its COVID-19 response costs, including personal protective equipment (PPE), medical equipment and personnel, according to the release.

The state says that the final cost of the response is expected to be "far greater."

Trump has approved major disaster declarations for all five other states in the region — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, along with 40 other states, Washington, D.C. and multiple territories.

Protective actions in response to COVID-19 that would be covered under this relief could include: emergency medical care, emergency operations center operations, medical sheltering, medical supplies, provisions of food, water, medicine, ice and other essential needs, security and law enforcement for temporary facilities and communications of general health and safety information to the public.

Nonprofits that could be eligible for reimbursement include nursing homes, laboratories, rehab centers that provide medical care, hospitals and emergency care facilities, fire/rescue emergency services and education facilities.

In addition to the public assistance funds, Scott has also requested authorization for Disaster Unemployment Assistance and Crisis Counseling Assistance/Regular Services Program.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides financial assistance to individuals whose employment or self-employment has been lost or interrupted as a direct result of a major disaster and who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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When a major disaster is declared by the president, DUA is generally available to any unemployed worker, or self-employed person, who lived, worked, or was scheduled to work in the disaster area at the time of the disaster, and no longer has a job or place to work because of the disaster.

Those eligible would also be covered if they can't reach their place of work, can't work due to damage to their place of work or can't work because of an injury caused by the disaster, according to the department's website.

DUA benefits are payable to individuals whose unemployment continues to be a result of the major disaster only for weeks of unemployment in the disaster assistance period, which continues for up to 26 weeks after the date the disaster is declared by the president.

The maximum weekly benefit amount is determined under the provisions of state law in the state where the disaster occurred.

In his letter to Trump, Scott said officials estimate that there are more than 50,000 self-employed people in Vermont — 15 percent of the state's workforce.

As of March 29, total initial unemployment claims were approximately 45,000 from the previous three-week period, Scott said in the letter.

More than 3,000 businesses in the state have also reported an economic injury impact of $100 million and rising, according to Scott's letter.

Along with the unemployment assistance, the requested disaster relief would address the long term impacts on services provided to the state's most at-risk populations, which are experiencing reduced operations or closure, such as: libraries, adult daycare centers, skilled nursing programs, counseling and support groups.

Assistance will also be used to expand access to mental health services and supports to help those who are experiencing mental health distress as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The long-term impacts of this disaster include significant mental and behavioral health concerns," Scott's letter reads. "The enormity of the disaster will require substantial efforts to expand capacity for supportive mental health and crisis counseling and support services Vermont is unable to adequately provide without federal assistance."

Scott also requested authority to activate up to 480 personnel in the Vermont National Guard.

The Vermont National Guard has activated over 2.2 percent — 70 soldiers and airmen — of its total force on state active duty status as of March 31, according to another letter from Scott to Trump, also dated April 6.

The National Guard will focus primarily on managing, controlling and reducing immediate threats to public health and safety caused by COVID-19, Scott said in that letter.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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