Rep. Tom Bock: Cares Act, ARPA funds give historic aid to Vermont

By Rep. Tom Bock

Because of Covid-19, an unprecedented spending at the federal level, a vast infusion of federal dollars came to Vermont, leading to  unprecedented levels of revenue for our state. In the spring of 2020, Vermont received $1.25 billion from the Cares Act and in the spring of 2021 we received $1.052 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The state’s fiscal 2022 balanced budget of $7.32 billion (no doubt, the largest ever for the state of Vermont), incorporates Cares Act money and $581 million of the ARPA money, plus more than $200 million in surplus state dollars.

I am proud of what a Democrat-led legislature and Republican-led administration accomplished together in the 2021 session. We all worked to ensure that the billions of dollars coming into the state were put to immediate and effective use in response to the pandemic. A lot of the needs that were unfulfilled in past years were addressed and funded. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make high-impact investments.

Here are just a few highlights of the FY2022 budget’s investments that began on July 1:

  • Expanding Broadband – H360 dedicates $150 million of federal stimulus funds to the construction of broadband infrastructure in the most underserved rural parts of the state.
  • Investing in Child Care – H171 invests $12.5 million with a goal that no family receiving subsidized child care spend more than 10% of its gross annual income on child care. By increasing affordability for working families and increasing childcare worker wages, we can support and grow our workforce.
  • Increasing Affordable Housing – $200 million has been set aside to increase housing stock for low and middle-income Vermonters while transitioning homeless Vermonters to permanent housing. Also the money will fund rental assistance programs and provide no-interest loans to rehabilitate sub-standard housing.
  • Addressing Climate Change – With transportation accounting for 44% of Vermont’s carbon emissions, the infusion of federal dollars allows us to expand incentives for electric vehicles and e-bicycles, provide more charging station grants, and extend Amtrak service from Rutland to Burlington. Funding of the emissions repair and the weatherization programs for low-income Vermonters also will help the state meet its carbon-reduction goals.

We also invested in higher education and workforce development to prepare Vermonters for 21st century jobs. We continued the Vote-By-Mail program, which will be effective in the next General Election. Even though, Vermont’s education spending is decided at the local level, we were able to keep property tax rates level with the use of federal dollars.

And finally, we began the process of resolving our public pensions crisis as we face a $5.6 billion unfunded liability. We were able to come up with a total pension investment this year of $466 million, a massive commitment for the legislature in a single year, by using an additional $150 million of ARPA dollars.

There remains $600 million of the ARPA funds not included in the fiscal 2022 budget that is available for future use. We will be coming to Vermonters across the state this summer to ask for your input and feedback regarding how we should spend the remaining $600 million. So, stay tuned.

I welcome your questions and concerns on any legislative issues. You can reach me at tbock@leg.state.vt.us or by phone at 875-2222.

State Rep. Tom Bock of Chester represents the towns of of Andover, Baltimore, Chester and North Springfield.

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