Vermont will spend most of remaining relief funds to help restaurants and inns survive

That didn’t take long.

The $118 million in unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds, which Vermont had to spend before Dec. 30 or risk losing, has been spent.

A sign at Ruben James on Main Street in Burlington on Sunday March 22, 2020, has gone take-out and delivery only. Gov. Phil Scott ordered all bars and restaurants to end on-site service to limit the threat of the new coronavirus which causes COVID-19.

Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Montpelier, said Monday the bulk of the funds, $75 million, will go to restaurants and lodging establishments to help them survive the pandemic that has gutted their businesses. Bars are included among the businesses eligible for relief. Grants are capped at $300,000 for any given business.

That decision was made on Saturday by the Joint Fiscal Committee, unanimously approving a proposal from the Scott administration. Cummings serves on the committee.

Last week, Cummings said, $33 million was approved for a variety of grants, mostly to defray increased costs in health and human services related to contact tracing and other actions required to combat COVID-19.

Another $6.45 million went to help the poorest Vermonters, and the elderly and disabled, who are already receiving the maximum help offered by the federal government. Cummings said each household would get about $280.

Could more people in Vermont be getting help?

There is some hope that additional unspent relief funding will come to light, Cummings said, which will be spent for “things left hanging,” such as grants for people needing to work who have to be quarantined. Cummings said the state needs about $700,000 to take care of those people.

Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington, right, chairs the Senate Education Committee.

If Vermont finds itself with unspent funds as the Dec. 30 deadline draws near — unlikely but not impossible — Cummings said that money will go into the unemployment trust fund so it isn’t lost to the federal government.

“We have depleted that (unemployment trust fund) nearly by half,” she said. “If this present surge results in greater shutdowns the second half could go away quickly.”

The state’s unemployment trust fund had about $500 million before the pandemic, and is down to about $262 million, Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington recently told the Free Press.

Cummings lamented the fact that Congress and the Trump Administration have not followed up with additional relief funds.

“At some point people will realize this country is hurting,” Cummings said. “At least if people knew there was something else coming they could hold on a little longer.”

More:Bars, restaurants in Vermont react to state’s tighter COVID-19 restrictions

Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or ddambrosio@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDambrosioVT. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers.