Vermont is about to receive another tsunami of federal Covid relief. Thanks in part to the diligent “bring home the bacon” efforts of our Congressional delegation, Vermont will be among the top recipients of per capita federal aid. The American Rescue Plan, passed by the U.S. Senate on Saturday, would provide $1.25 billion for Vermont, according to Baconator-in-Chief Pat Leahy. That’s equal to the amount we got from last year’s CARES Act.
And until the last dollar is spent, there is no excuse for any Vermonter to be struggling. That is, if the Scott administration and the Legislature follow one simple rule: Prioritize relief for those hit hardest by the pandemic. Only then should you think about anything else.
Since the pandemic began, the Vermont Foodbank has been overwhelmed. In 2020, it set an all-time record for delivering food to those in need. Total food distribution was 113% higher than in 2019. And the demand has remained high. “The need has not gone down,” Foodbank CEO John Sayles told me.”Our 300 partners around the state all continue to see the heightened levels we’ve seen since last March.”
As long as there are unspent federal dollars, this should not happen. The food banks ought to be empty. Crickets, tumbleweeds, dust on the canned goods.
Sayles offered plenty of praise for steps the state has taken to reduce hunger, and said his request for fiscal year 2022 has gotten a “really positive response.” If that’s true, I asked him, why has the demand stayed at record levels? “So many people have had massive economic disruption,” he said, citing a UVM study that found 50% of Vermonters have had some kind of financial disruption since the pandemic hit.
Full credit to our political leaders for accomplishing much, but we could be doing even more. Food-insecure Vermonters should be at the front of the line, along with others hard hit by the pandemic. They include people with substance use or mental health issues, and small businesses in sectors like small retail, hospitality and tourism.
What shouldn’t happen is that the money gets used for wish-list projects or non-Covid-related issues.Continue reading