Legislative Update- July 31, 2023
Friday, July 28, 2023
by: Matt Musgrave

Section: Legislative Update

Last Tuesday, 7/26, the House Commerce Committee and the Senate Economic Development and Housing Committee held an all day session to hear from state officials, business owners, non profits, recovery organization, city officials and citizens about the damage cause by the flood to their homes, businesses and losses they had. During the all day session there were tears, reports of heroic volunteerism in the communities affected and Vermonters sharing specific details about how they were impacted by the flood. 

The morning started off with testimony from state leaders including Treasurer Mike Pieciak and Attorney General Charity Clark. Pieciak explained that Vermont is in a good financial standing to weather the storm and some ideas that the legislature may take up in January for more recovery. Clark outlined the AG offices duties in which include not only keeping state agencies running but also dealing with potential fraud that may occur during cleanup.

Several regional economic development corporations spoke and explained that even with the funding sources available such as the Small Business Association loans. They made it very clear that many businesses impacted by the flood were still paying back loans that are keeping their businesses going after the pandemic. What was shocking was their warnings of business not reopening and the damage it will have on local communities.

There were positive messages in the meeting which lasted all day long. Many non profits such as Montpelier Alive, Capstone, Vermont Foodbank and others were already assisting communities with volunteers and financial support. Patricia Komline from Downs Rachlin Martin outlined their Vermonts Main Street Recovery fund which is set up to channel donations from the public to businesses and people impacted by the flood.

The Federal Congressional Delegation sent representatives to talk about what was happening in Washington, DC. They outlined upcoming spending bills and agriculture bills that would be good opportunities to get funds earmarked for Vermonts recovery. They also explained their efforts in working with the Biden administration to focus on the disaster status.

In the afternoon there were several business owners who spoke about their experience with the flood. One Montpelier restaurant owner explained her specific experience with the original cleanup which is still ongoing. She explained how they got right into the mud and started clearing out products and supplies while trying to establish what she could keep. At first she felt very positive as many of her valuable items were stored above the water mark. However that happiness was quickly turned to concern when the state health department started explaining to people what Level 3 Contamination is and that it would require almost an entire gutting of the building and cause her to throw out expensive items like walk in refrigerators that had been in contact with the mud. She was clear that her decision had not been made whether to reopen. She explained she had opened her business 2 years ago during the pandemic and was becoming successful before the flood. She explained that her decision may be based on what type of grants or support may become available. She said she had saved some of the revenue from her first two years that she planned to use to reinvest and grow her business and that may be able to replace some of her losses. But to her that would mean her business had accomplished nothing over the past two years and she may end up leaving Montpelier. We heard from local leaders that she is not the only one and that many downtown businesses had already announced their permanent closure including staples like Capital Copier in Montpelier. 

The day ended with Secretary Lindsay Kurrle from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) explaining what their plans were including the Governors new Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program which will provide $20 million to businesses with unrecoverable losses. The program would allow businesses to claim 20% of unrecovered losses up to $20,000 in the grant program. The Governor and ACCD both admit that $20 million is no where near enough and that more is on the way via Federal and State aid.