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Scott outlines $400M economic recovery plan

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced a $400 million aid package on Wednesday that targets the state's hard-hit small businesses and Vermont's threatened 670 dairy farms.

The money, which comes from the state's $1.25 billion allocation under the federal CARES Act, will need to be approved by the Vermont Legislature. Scott said he hoped the Legislature would act in about a week, to get the federal funds out into the Vermont community.

"I know there are too many small business owners who are desperate right now," Scott said, adding that many "don't see a path out of the red."

At a late-morning new conference with much of his administration, Scott said he was allocating the federal funds to very vulnerable pillars of the Vermont economy that have been devastated by the coronavirus pandemic — "through no fault of their own."

The program is divided into four areas: financial assistance, housing assistance, technical assistance and marketing support.

Small businesses must be given a chance to survive, Scott said, with the vast majority of the funds — $250 million — earmarked for immediate help for business. There is even outlined a special program for very small businesses with five employees or under.

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The governor made a sustained plea for Vermonters to spend their money locally — whether it is buying Vermont milk, ice cream, yogurt or cheese, and to spend their vacation dollars in the state at campgrounds and inns, to help the hard-hit hospitality industry. And he announced a new $5 million marketing effort designed to boost Vermont tourism — by Vermonters, since Scott has not opened the state back up to out-of-state visitors to a large extent, which hampers any full recovery by the hospitality industry.

Of the $400 million, $50 million will go toward rental housing assistance — helping tenants and landlords.

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A lot of the focus of the news conference was on the dairy farms and the associated dairy processors. Scott said there would be grants for small, medium and large farms.

Anson Tebbetts, the secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, said the dairy farms are teetering on the brink of extinction because of the loss of markets and plummeting milk prices. He said it's not just the state's 670 farms that are in danger, but the whole agriculture economic network of businesses supporting agriculture.

Other agriculture enterprises, such as vegetable and farmers markets, are free to apply for the business grant and loan program, Tebbetts said.

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The economic recovery plan will include an initial plan of $310 million, with the remaining $90 million coming in the future, Scott said.

"It's our first collective step toward repairing economic bridges and ensuring the survival of our business community," said Lindsay Currle, the secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

Scott said of the $1.25 billion CARES money, the state is spending millions of dollars on the coronavirus response, and $300 million on the state's health care system, including its hospitals.

Scott thanked the state's congressional delegation — Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch — for helping to get as much CARES funding as the state received. Even so, Scott said, it was not enough and he said he hopes additional federal funding would be coming.

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