Final Reading: Undocumented farm workers could see a stimulus check

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott speaks at a press briefing on the state's COVID-19 response on Friday, April 3, 2020. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger


— Gov. Phil Scott released his $400 million economic recovery plan Wednesday morning, which will shape how lawmakers package economic support to sectors across the state. 

The plan would provide $250 million in direct grants and loans to Vermont businesses, including $150 million for the food, accommodation, retail and agriculture sectors, and $80 million for grants and low-interest loans to other businesses. 

The state’s dairy industry alone would receive up to $50 million in assistance under the proposal. An additional $20 million would be available to small businesses with five or fewer employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue. The package also includes $42 million in direct assistance to landlords and tenants.

“The storm is not over but this is our first collective step towards repairing economic bridges and ensuring the survival of our business community," said Lindsay Kurrle, the secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. - Xander Landen

— Senate Agriculture lawmakers have drafted a proposal that would give undocumented farm workers a one-time $500 payment. Many of these farmworkers did not receive stimulus checks from the federal government, and Migrant Justice activists have been pushing the Statehouse for a package to support them.

During a Senate Ag discussion about the bill, lawmakers wondered if the payment should increase. “I would certainly prefer us to provide more support, more payments,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington. “Let’s see what kind of buy-in there is for the concept,” responded Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden. 

The bill also includes a farmer financial assistance program, which would give payments to farms to help mitigate the financial losses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the current version of the bill, large farms could see a $50,000 payment, medium farms could receive a $22,500 payment and small farms could receive a $12,500 payment. 

However, the plan could change now that Gov. Phil Scott’s economic relief package is on the table. That package includes $40 million for dairy farms and $10 million for processors. - Grace Elletson

— Vermont Legal Aid told Senate Econ lawmakers that $50 million will be needed to give Vermonters rental assistance to prevent widespread evictions and widespread financial losses among landlords. 

Jean Murray, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, presented data collected by the organization, showing that 18,000 renters were paying more than 50% of their income for rent before the pandemic — a precarious financial figure, she said, that signals how many Vermonters may need rent assistance. 

Murray also pointed to new data provided by 3SquaresVT showing that since March 23, 6,000 new Vermonters have signed up for food stamps. - Grace Elletson

— Stephen Monahan, director of Vermont’s Workers' Compensation and Safety Division, told House Commerce lawmakers that a bill, S.342, allowing Covid-19 to be covered under workers’ compensation claims for a wide variety of employees, may be unnecessary. 

Monahan said that of the Covid-19 cases his office has received, he said “very few” positive cases have been denied. He said of those who have had to stop working due to the virus, the employer has continued paying them wages and hospital care wasn’t needed, so there was no need for the state to make any workers’ compensation payments.

David Mickenberg, a lobbyist for coalition Working Vermont, told lawmakers that the Senate bill does more than just strengthen workers’ compensation claims. 

“I would argue that by offering greater protection in our workers’ compensation system,” Mickensberg said, “our employers that have struggled in their workforce development, would be sending a strong message to employees that their work is valued and that their employers will do all they can to protect them through this crisis.” - Grace Elletson

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Grace Elletson

About Grace

Grace Elletson is VTDigger's government accountability reporter, covering politics, state agencies and the Legislature. She is part of the BOLD Women's Leadership Network and a recent graduate of Ithaca College, where she was editor in chief of the Ithacan. She previously interned for the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Christian Science Monitor and The Cape Cod Times, her hometown newspaper.

Email: [email protected]

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