By Ellie French/VTDigger
A $150 gift card could soon be sent to every household in Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday, Aug. 21, as part of an economic recovery package to spend the remainder of the $1.25 billion allotted to Vermont under the federal CARES Act.
At his twice-weekly press conference this past Friday, Scott said that the Legislature had been holding off on spending about $200 million of the CARES Act funding with the hope that Congress might change the rules on how it can be spent, to give states more flexibility.
But as the rules are currently written, the funds have to be spent by the end of the year. So Scott announced a proposal to use an additional $133 million of funding for economic recovery efforts.
Scott’s proposal includes $50 million in hospitality and tourism-specific grants, $23 million in economic recovery grants to help fill gaps in the original program, such as funding for sole proprietors, certain types of nonprofits, very new businesses and businesses that sustained losses of less than 50% over a three-month period. It also includes $10 million in tourism funds for marketing to encourage travel to Vermont in the fall and winter and $50 million to give every Vermont household a $150 gift card to be spent at a local Vermont business.
Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the state is not allowed to make cash payments directly to Vermonters with the funds, but it is allowed to provide this kind of “discount card” to people, which she said would “put the buying power back into the hands of Vermonters,” while ensuring that the money is invested back into local businesses.
“This way, it’s a win-win-win for us to get money in the hands of our local businesses and our communities, but giving Vermonters the opportunity to choose how they’re spending the money,” Kurrle said.
The governor’s proposal needs to be taken up and approved by the Legislature before it is rolled out, so whether the gift card plan comes to fruition is still up in the air.
“As you’ve seen in past proposals, they tend to get switched up,” said Nate Formalarie, spokesperson for the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. “But in the past, the Legislature has seemed to have a positive opinion of doing some sort of program like this.”
How the discount card program would likely work, if approved, Formalarie said, is that an app would be created, where Vermont businesses can go on and offer deals and discounts, such as a $20 discount on dinner. Then, customers can use the app to take advantage of those deals.
“I think it’s a situation where maybe folks are cash-strapped in certain ways, but they want to go eat at their favorite restaurant, and this would give them the ability to do that,” Formalarie said. “At the same time, that restaurant would get business they wouldn’t normally have gotten.”
The Legislature comes back in session next week, and Formalarie said the governor is hoping it can take up these proposals right away, since the money needs to be spent by the end of the year.
“As the governor said today, it’s important to be acting now, and not waiting till November and December,” he said. “We hope we can get this out into the market as quickly as possible.”