LEGISLATIVE UPDATE April 27, 2020
As we maneuver these very challenging times, I will continue to provide you with the most current information that I have, but please realize that things are changing very rapidly. Please stay informed and safe.
Last Friday, the Governor continued with his plan to open the Vermont economy a quarter spigot turn at a time. The following are the new guidelines
Phase 2 of this effort, effective April 27, 2020, will allow the following:
- Employees must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others. In the case of retail cashiers, a translucent shield or “sneeze guard” is acceptable in lieu of a mask.
- Employees must have easy and frequent access to soap and water or hand sanitizer during duration of work, and handwashing or hand sanitization should be required before entering, and leaving, job sites.
- “Micro-crews,” or no more than five (5) persons per location/job, to perform outdoor work and construction work in unoccupied structures.
- Manufacturing and distribution operations may resume with a maximum of 5 (five) employees in any location if they are low-density and ensure employees are at least six feet apart at all times.
- Supporting operations may continue with the minimum number of employees necessary to support curbside pick-up and delivery services, and in accordance with the guidance issued by ACCD.
- Resumption of in-person shopping at outdoor retail operations, such as garden centers and greenhouses offering mulch, stone, plant, tree, seed sales; provided, however, these operations shall not permit any more than a maximum of 10 total people including customers and staff.
- Outdoor retail operations shall take steps to schedule or stage customer visits, such as waiting in cars until ready, to ensure no congregation
- All operations shall designate a health officer on-site at every shift responsible for ensuring compliance with Addendum 10 and this Addendum 11 to the Executive Order and applicable ACCD Guidance. This person shall have the authority to stop or modify activities to ensure work conforms with the mandatory health and safety requirements.
- All employees, including those already working (except healthcare workers, first responders, and others already trained in infection control, personal protection/universal precautions), must complete, and employers must document, a mandatory training on health and safety requirements as provided by VOSHA, or another training program that meets or exceeds the VOSHA-provided standard.
Training Requirements. All employers shall provide training and a written copy of standard operating procedures to be developed by the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Agency (VOSHA), in consultation with VDH, on, at a minimum:
a. The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and an explanation of how the disease is spread.
b. Information on appropriate social distancing and personal hygiene practices, including those set forth in this Addendum 11 to the Executive Order and applicable ACCD Guidance.
c. The types, proper use, limitations, location, handling, decontamination, removal, and disposal of any PPE being used.
Employers may adopt another training program that meets or exceeds the VOSHA provided standard, or additional policies and procedures that are applicable to the employment environment and employees’ duties, which shall not be less restrictive than those developed by VOSHA.
All businesses and non-profit and government entities in operation must complete and document mandatory health and safety training by May 4, 2020.
The Governor has been noticeably clear with his messaging, “we will open the economy a quarter turn at a time.” At last Friday’s news conference there was guarded optimism that the strict measures that have been taken have proven successful. The COVID-19 cases seem to be lessening. But it was clear from both Governor Scott and Health Commissioner Levin that we are not in the clear/we need to continue to be vigilant in the efforts.
INCLUDED IN THIS UPDATE
HOUSE AND SENATE AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEES
SBA PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM/VT SBA WEBINAR
UPDATE FROM BOB GRAY/MIKE OSCAR
The House and Senate both have the capacity to vote remotely. The House passed their Temporary Remote Voting bill on Thursday and then proceeded to pass four Senate bills dealing with COVID-19 issues. Now that both chambers can vote remotely there could be an increase in legislative activity. The Speaker indicated last week that the House would continue to work on COVID-19 issued till the end of April, suggesting there might be opportunity for other legislation to be worked on and passed.
There has been some discussion that the legislature will recess within the next few weeks and then come back in midsummer to understand what revenues the state has received and how the federal money can be utilized. Vermont is scheduled to receive about $1.2 Billion from the Federal Government. The House Appropriations Committee is considering creating:
- FY2020 budget adjustment bill covering the fiscal year ending June 30
- A three-month FY2021 budget bill that would cover July, August, and September 2020
- The full FY2021 bill cannot be completed till later in the summer because of the delayed income tax filing date for July 15
HOUSE AND SENATE AGRICULTURAL COMMITTEES
The House and Senate Ag committees continue to meet. Last week the House and Senate committee’s discussed Farmer’s Markets, meat/culling capacity, farm labor.
Farmer’s markets must adhere to all municipal ordinances and regulatory and permitting requirements prior to opening. Farmer’s markets must significantly alter their business practices to eliminate crowds and reduce contact between vendors and customers, including a transition away from shopping and social events to primarily a food distribution system. Farmers markets shall use a “pre-order, local food pick-up” model to the extent possible and comply with any additional guidance issued by the Agency of Agriculture and Food Markets (AAFM).
Farmworker Health Issue
Senate Ag and Senate Health and Welfare heard from UVM Extension and Migrant Justice and others on the challenges with migrant farm workers and securing health care and the financial impact on the workers when they are unable to work when they are ill. Meat processing/Culling capacity
House Agriculture heard testimony on the challenges within the meat processing industry both in and out of state. As producers cut production what will the value of that cull animals be and is there the capacity for processing
SBA Paycheck Protection Program/PUA
Congress passed and the President signed a new Covid-19 relief bill. The bill includes another $210 Billion for the PPP. If you have not applied for this money, I suggest that you contact your lender and discuss if this would be an option for your business. The other option could be the PUA which is explained below:
- Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA):
- Self-employed farmers/loggers/etc. may apply for PUA if you have had some level of lost income. The VT DOL system is now open. If eligible, you would be eligible to receive a minimum of $790 per week and a maximum of $1,113 per week. https://labor.vermont.gov/PUA
Vermont SBA Hosting Daily Webinars Focused on PPP and EIDL
The Vermont SBA will provide daily webinars that provide guidance for applicants for federal assistance, including what the loans cover, the difference between the two loans, answer questions about forgiveness, and more. There is a Q&A period during each webinar.
These webinars take place from 9 am to 10 am daily.
To join by phone, call (202) 765-1264 and when prompted enter the code 470177937#. Upon joining the call, mute the phone to cut down on the background noise and please do not place the call on hold as the hold music will be heard over the presenter. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
VRGA Erin Sigrist
Senate to Vote on Essential Employee Financial Assistance Grants
The Senate Appropriations Committee Friday afternoon worked to finalize a bill that proposes to create an Essential Employees Grant Program for the payment of $1,000 monthly grants to employees making $25 or less per hour. The grant, an attempt to support essential employees with increased risk of contracting COVID- 19, is the Legislature’s response to the Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. The federal program has increased unemployment benefits by $600 per week, thus making it more attractive for some employees to stay home.
If passed, a third-party fiscal agent would reach out to employers within essential industries to identify eligible employees. Employees working more than 108 hours per month would receive the full $1,000 grant, while employees working under the threshold would receive a partial grant payment. The legislation also prohibits employers from reducing the hourly compensation, including any related bonuses or premiums, of any eligible employee during the program period, and cannot require any eligible employee to pay an administrative fee or other charge in relation to the employer requesting or obtaining a grant payment for the employee. The committee will brief the Scott Administration and House leadership on Monday to discuss next steps. Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe has alluded to lukewarm support from the Scott Administration. Additionally, he reported that the Trump Administration’s guidance on these funds have been rather restrictive on what these funds could be allocated toward.
Update from Bob Gray and Mike Oscar Lobbyist for Northeast Dairy Farmers Cooperatives
* Agri-Mark, Inc. – Dairy Farmers of America Northeast Council — Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.
Dairy Risk Management Concepts for the Current Environment APRIL 30, 2020
Dairy farmers and industry professionals are invited to hear Dr. Marin Bozic and Farm Credit East Business Consultant Gregg McConnell address the current dairy situation during a free webinar from 12:30 to 2 pm on Thursday, April 30. During this time, Dr. Bozic will provide a dairy markets update as well as discuss tools available to dairy producers to manage risk on their operation. Gregg McConnell will discuss how to evaluate your farm’s risk profile and the suitability of risk management tools for different situations.
Congress Passes $484 Billion Coronavirus Relief Bill By Mike Oscar
On Thursday, Congress passed a $484 billion coronavirus relief bill setting the stage for negotiations on an even larger package that could rival the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress last month. The primary purpose of the bill is to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), but the measure includes funding to expand coronavirus testing and help keep states and hospitals afloat amid the pandemic. To that end, the bill will:
- Add $210 billion to the funding the PPP managed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) after businesses exhausted the initial $349 billion allocated for the program in less than 2 weeks.
- Include $10 billion for Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, which allows businesses to borrow up to $2 million with an initial grant of up to $10,000.
- Allocate $30 billion in loans to be issued exclusively by federally insured banks and credit unions with assets between $10 and $50 billion, and another $30 billion in loans to be issued by firms with less than $10 billion in assets. The loans will be available on a first-come first-serve basis.
- Include an additional $75 billion for hospitals to cover treatment for coronavirus patients and lost revenue from cancelled elective procedures.
- Include $25 billion in funding to develop and expand access to tests for COVID- 19; and
- Allocate state, local territorial and tribal governments $11 billion in funds to develop, run and process COVID tests, boost laboratory capacity, trace contacts and help employer test workers for the virus. The bill adds funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health, Food and Drug Administration and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to boost coronavirus surveillance, research, and progress toward treatments and vaccines.
COVID-5 Relief Bill? By Mike Oscar
Passing a fifth COVID relief package, which members of Congress have already promised, is developing into a more costly and contentious undertaking. This week, President Trump called for a new bill providing aid to state and local governments, infrastructure spending, a payroll tax cut and tax breaks for restaurants, sports and entertainment interests. Senate Minority Leader Schumer told reporters he would push for a “big, bold, broad” package that would include money for infrastructure, housing, election security, a “heroes fund” for frontline workers and first responders, a postal service rescue and “robust” state and local aid. Speaker Pelosi has her own wish list that includes extending enhanced unemployment insurance benefits past their current July 31 expiration, and another round of tax rebate checks. Also, she wants more funding to protect the integrity of elections and let people vote by mail, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell intends to stymie any new major spending initiative due to his concerns regarding the rising debt. Per McConnell, “let’s see what we’re doing that’s succeeding, what is not succeeding, what needs less and what needs more. Let’s weigh this very carefully because the future of our country, in terms of the amount of debt we’re adding up, is a matter of genuine concern.” These COVID-19 Relief Bills purport to dwarf the deficit peak of $1.4 trillion during the Great Recession and will approach levels not seen since World War II. Per estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the current legislation, combined with aid packages enacted last month, is likely to add nearly $2.5 trillion to deficits over the coming decade. Per Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, “the good news is interest rates are very low, so the cost of carrying the debt to the American taxpayer is quite low. But I think we’re all sensitive to that this is a war and we need to win this war and we need to spend what it takes to win the war. We are sensitive to the economic impacts of putting on debt. That’s something that the president is … reviewing with us very carefully.” Finally, it’s still unknown when the COVID-5 Relief Bill will be conceived, drafted and debated and with Congress in a prolonged recess, this bill will hinge on when member of Congress can safely return to the Capitol for an extended period. Congress is tentatively scheduled to reconvene on May 4, but that timing is dependent on the virus’s continued impact.