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I hope you had a happy Memorial Day weekend. The holiday is usually is full of parades and family gatherings, and generally marks the unofficial start to summer. While this year feels very different, some things are still basically the same. I participated in the fantastic Vergennes Memorial Day Clang ‘n Bang Parade that included good physical distancing, loud revelry, patriotic masks, and Little City pride. Many families, including mine, carefully gathered for a picnic outside with friends (for the first time!). The weekend’s weather was gorgeous and today it hit the low 90s. Yikes!
A Summer of Re-Starting
Both the VT Department of Health and the VT Agency of Natural Resources offer some great guidance about how we all can safely connect with friends and family and participate in outdoor recreation safely and responsibly during this summer and beyond. Most parks, beaches, and some swimming facilities will be opening soon, with strict health protocols in place. Unfortunately, in order to keep everyone safe, summer fairs and festivals have been canceled, including the beloved Addison County Fair & Field Days. I know this means summer won’t be the same for many people in our community, but, I hope you can enjoy other amazing outdoor opportunities that summer in Vermont has to offer. Have fun doing something new in our beautiful state!
As you may already know, the Governor has announced re-opening dates and guidance for a host of different types of businesses, operations, and activities, including outdoor seating at restaurants, yard sales, beaches & swimming areas, and hair salons and barber shops. You can find more details about these activities on the Governor’s Restart Vermont website. In addition, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development continues to update its general Restart Vermont Resources as well as sector-specific guidance for many employment fields, so be sure to review this guidance if you have questions about how to keep safe while on the job or doing business.
Green Up Day is Saturday!
While the pandemic delayed Green Up Vermont Day, it did not stop this wonderful state tradition from marking its 50th anniversary! Green Up Day is this Saturday, May 30th in towns around Vermont, including Huntington and towns throughout Addison County. It’s a great opportunity to be outside, practice physical distancing, and clean up a roadside or area near your home.
Testing and Health Update
The pop-up testing events throughout the state are continuing, including Addison County events in Middlebury on Friday, May 29 and Friday, June 5 at the American Legion on Wilson Road. You can sign-up online for this free testing even if you are not experiencing symptoms. Most health care providers, including dentists, are beginning to offer most routine health care services again, albeit with limitations and strict protocols. Especially if you’ve delayed important care, please call your health care provider to schedule an appointment. Visit the Porter Medical Center website for information about local medical services. If you do not have a primary care physician, you can call Vermont 2-1-1 for assistance finding a doctor. The Department of Health continues to provide daily updates to current COVID-19 activity in Vermont and regular updates to its excellent Vermont Department of Health website.
Although most years the Vermont Legislature finishes up its business by late May, this year we’ll remain in action remotely until late June, take a break during July, and restart our work again in August before, hopefully, finishing in early autumn. We have spent most of the past two months responding to the COVID-19 health crisis, passing legislation to help keep people safe, access health care during the emergency, maintain essential government services, and assist constituents during a frightening time. We’re now turning our attention to both addressing the considerable financial crisis impacting our state and some important legislation that was left on the table when we temporarily recessed in mid-March.
Tomorrow the Senate will pass an adjusted state budget for the current fiscal year (FY20) which addresses nearly $145 million in revenue shortfalls in the three major state funds that support the majority of state programs and operations, our K-12 schools, and the state’s transportation infrastructure. We’ll then turn our attention to the state budget for next year, FY21, which begins July 1. Current revenue forecasts show that the three major state funds will be down in revenue by nearly $375 million in FY21. These significant fiscal challenges will mean that the Legislature will have to make some extremely difficult decisions about the allocation of resources during the coming months.
Fortunately, we do also have $1.25 billion in federal funding from the Coronavirus Relief Fund allocated by the U.S. Congress last month. This is a significant sum of money for our small state. However, the funding comes with many restrictions on how we’re allowed to spend the money – expenses must be specific to the impact of the COVID crisis and all funds must be fully expended no later than December 30, 2020. We cannot use this funding to simply make up for the revenue shortfalls in our state funds. This means we have a small window of restricted opportunity to distribute these funds fairly and effectively to help individual Vermonters; hospitals and healthcare providers; organizations and businesses; childcare providers, schools, and colleges; cities and towns; and everyone who has been affected by this pandemic. Some of this funding has already been allocated to address emergency expenses during the depths of the crisis, more of it will be allocated in the FY20 budget adjustment, more will be appropriated in a “skinny” budget we’ll pass in late June, and still more will be allocated in the late summer when we return to finalize a full-year FY21 state budget.
We have many months of difficult budgeting ahead of us! Fortunately, I love digging into budget challenges, and hope I can take breaks to enjoy summer in Vermont. Stay tuned for more budget information as decisions are made. For today, I’ll leave you with some COVID-19-themed music videos from a multi-talented Middlebury family that has been finding creative ways to stay sane during these difficult times.
We’re all in this together. Take care and stay safe.