The recently passed $1.9 trillion dollar American Rescue Plan will help 90 percent of the state, close to 600,000 Vermonters. 

In a one-on-one interview, Senator Bernie Sanders explained what Vermonters can expect from the newest Covid-19 relief bill, which brings in nearly $1.35 billion in state funding.

What does the bill provide for Vermont families?

“A family of four will receive about $5,600. And in the midst of this economic downturn, people are struggling so much, I think that will be a real shot in the arm for many households in the state of Vermont. That’s really important.

Secondly it extends unemployment benefits to September, and it provides tax exemption for the first $10,000 of unemployment that people may have received last year. Furthermore it goes a long way to expanding the child tax credit, which means about 145,000 kids will be impacted in that, making it easier for families to raise their children.

What it also does in terms of healthcare in Vermont, it more than doubles the amount of money coming in for community health centers, which are very, very important, in terms of primary healthcare in the state.

It triples the amount of money coming in for summer programs for children as well as after school programs in the next several years. And what that means is, given the fact that education has been disrupted for so many of our kids, it will give them a chance to catch up in the summer as well as have recreational activities, as well.

President Joe Biden is calling this a historic bill. Do you agree and why?

“In my view, this is the most significant piece of legislation passed for working families in many, many decades. It is a historic bill. And the goal here is to provide help to working families, to small businesses, to hospitals, to local and state governments so that we can get our feet on the ground and finally crush the pandemic and create an economy that is back to normal, where people are working decent-paying jobs.”

Do you believe we can come out of the Pandemic economically stronger than when we first entered it?

“Absolutely. We have that potential. Right now, what we have to do, obviously, is make sure people are not living in desperation.

There was a poll that recently came out that said 63 percent of American families were living paycheck to paycheck. Millions of people working for starvation wages, people fearful about being evicted, not able to feed their kids, and that is what this bill addresses. (It) makes sure the hospitals have the funding they need, municipal government have the funding that they need.

But beyond that, what we have to do, is rebuild this economy. And we’re going to do that by creating millions of good paying jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and addressing the planetary crisis of climate change.

So we’re not where we want to be, but to my mind, this is a very, very significant step forward…and I would say to the families in Vermont, the households in Vermont, we’re going to do our best to make sure those direct payments or checks are out as soon as possible, hopefully within the next couple of weeks.”

Do you agree with Biden that the bill will help provide enough vaccinations by mid-May?

“Yeah. The goal, right now, is two-fold. First, to produce the amount of vaccines that we need as a nation. And second of all, to get those vaccines into people’s arms. Truth is, we have made really good progress. Last week, I think it was just a few days ago, 3 million people received vaccinations, and that is a really, major step forward.

But the truth is, we’re not going to be able to open the economy the way we want to, reopen our schools the way we want to, unless our people get vaccinated.”

While it was voted down, do you see your $15 minimum wage amendment passing during Biden’s first term?

I do. I do. We received 42 votes, I wanted 50 votes, I needed 50 votes. We couldn’t get it. At the end of the day, there are many millions of people in this country, working at wages that are so low, you can’t pay the rent, you can’t feed your kids, you can’t live with dignity.

So we have to raise the minimum wage, the $15 an hour. We’re looking at a number of strategies with the Biden Administration to make that happen. But to answer your question, yeah I do believe we’ll succeed.”