Senate Update: Building the Runway for a Safe Reopening

by Kesha Ram, April 20th, 2021.


Dear Neighbors,


To those who observe, Ramadan Mubarak and a happy Earth Day. As you hopefully know, all Vermonters 16 years of age and older are now eligible to receive their COVID vaccine. Visit https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine to find out more and schedule your appointment.


We are now entering into what is likely to be our last month of the full 2021 legislative session. With so much uncertainty remaining about federal relief guidelines and parameters, it is possible we will hold a special session later in the year when we have better information.


Much of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding has a four-year timeline, so we will not be appropriating a majority of it for this fiscal year, though we are trying to get a large infusion of dollars to families and communities who need them most. Currently under discussion are funding allocations that include $11 million for housing and homelessness; $29 million for health, well-being, and justice; $103 million for workforce and economic development; $130 million for water and sewer infrastructure; $200 million for broadband; and more. These numbers could change rapidly depending on eligible uses and negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor.


Also under discussion is $200 million over the next few years to fund climate change initiatives. I support this use of funds and am working to promote a climate service component for young people to be able to gain an entry point into the green jobs of the future. We are anticipating additional federal money from the American Jobs Plan. This plan seeks to revitalize rural communities while focusing on rural infrastructure and climate justice solutions.


Many of you have also reached out about a provision in a recently passed relief funding bill that taxes PPP grants in the upcoming tax year. I do not support the taxation of PPP grants, and have relayed this concern to the Senate Finance Committee, which is actively considering removing this provision. As we look to support businesses through General Fund grants, it would be contradictory of us to tax what was already given, and have to make small businesses jump through additional hoops to get that relief back in the future.


Finally, since I last wrote, the State Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of two constitutional amendments - one that explicitly prohibits slavery and indentured servitude, which was not yet clear in our Constitution, and another that seeks to enshrine reproductive liberty and freedom for all Vermonters. I was proud to support the advance of these two amendments to heal from a history built on enslavement and the subjugation of women. With the House also likely to vote in favor of these amendments, they will be placed on a statewide ballot in November of 2022, where I will be honored to vote alongside my fellow citizens as we bend the arc of the moral universe further toward justice.


All the best,


Kesha

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