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VTDigger: State to offer new assistance to businesses, municipalities

July 21, 2023

State officials on Friday previewed a pair of new programs intended to support Vermont businesses and municipalities following devastating flooding last week. 

At a press conference in Berlin, Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle said the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development would provide $20 million directly to impacted businesses and nonprofits “who suffered physical damage due to the severe flooding.”

“Our business community is struggling to come back online following this flood,” Kurrle said at the press conference, noting that there are few resources available to businesses other than federal disaster loans offered by the Small Business Administration. “We have heard the business community loud and clear. In order to reopen, they need more help than a loan can provide.”

Kurrle emphasized that the program was still being developed, with details and eligibility requirements set to be announced next week. 

“Business owners can expect grants to support demonstrated losses to their physical space and replacements of inventory, machinery, equipment and supplies,” Kurrle said, encouraging business owners to document their losses in the meantime by taking photos of damage and compiling cost estimates for repairs or actual paid expenses. 

The announcement came shortly after business leaders in Montpelier held a press conference expressing concern about the state’s support for businesses in the wake of the storm. 

At the Berlin press conference, Gov. Phil Scott gestured toward the enormity of the damages that Vermont businesses suffered. 

 “We know this won’t be enough,” he said. “We’ll need Congress to come through to give a bigger lifeline to our impacted employers.”

Expedited funding for municipalities

State officials also announced that they would provide $11 million of “quick relief” for municipalities that have suffered the most from flooding.

State Treasurer Mike Pieciak said at the Berlin press conference that his office would advance payments to 40 of the hardest-hit towns. 

The advanced funding is intended to offer “immediate” support as municipalities continue to organize relief efforts, Pieciak said, helping municipalities to reduce borrowing costs and stay afloat as they wait for FEMA reimbursement.

“Municipalities need to get this cleaned up as soon as possible, so we can … transition to recovery,” Scott said. 

Pieciak also said an $85 million program to support housing and climate action, authorized by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would be put on hold in order to prioritize flood relief.

“Obviously, housing and climate action are critical needs, but the immediate response to the flood is more important at this moment, so we have put a pause on that program while we wait to see what the gaps are that emerge from the business community, from municipalities (and) from other organizations across Vermont,” Pieciak said. 

The treasurer said his office is ready to help the governor’s administration to “deploy these additional resources if and when they become available.”

Disaster relief approved for freeze, pending for flood

Officials also announced at the press conference that federal disaster relief aid has been approved for Vermont farmers to address damage from a freeze in May that decimated spring crops and cost some farm workers their jobs

The emergency declaration by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will extend to all 14 counties, which have been designated primary natural disaster areas, according to state Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

He noted that the state was still awaiting word from the USDA about a separate request for assistance related to last week’s floods.

As of 11 a.m. Friday, Tebbetts said, 9,424 acres had been lost to the flood, with about 200 farmers and producers impacted.