Vermont leaders address COVID-19 challenges in third ‘tele-town hall’

Local News

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch joined Governor Phil Scott and members of his cabinet for a ‘tele-town hall’ update on COVID-19 response and relief efforts.

They met shortly before the House of Representatives passed a $484 billion relief package. Sen. Leahy hopes this most recent legislation will help those who didn’t benefit from previous bills.

“We took steps to try to assist the small stores, the mom and pop shops like those near my homes in Middlesex,” Sen. Leahy said. “We made it a high priority to expand the SBA’s disaster program to include small farms and agricultural operations. These steps are important, but we know it’s not the time to let up.”

Small farm owners have been particularly concerned about the delay in financial relief. Sharon Haumann, owner of Misty Mountain Farm in Townshend, called in to the town hall to detail her situation.

“We have now been six weeks with zero income,” Haumann said. “I have spent hours online every day, we are not eligible for any of this huge amount of money that has been put out there for stimulus. I’m concerned about the survival of our farm, but also of all the family farms in Vermont.”

Earlier this month, Scott created a task force to help businesses and identify gaps in relief funding. The latest relief bill from Congress will extend benefits to small farms and agricultural businesses.

Sen. Bernie Sanders said his work in Washington will be ensuring that money reaches the people its intended for. “How do we make sure that money gets out to workers who lost their jobs, the small businesses who are worried right now they may never re-open?” Sanders said.

“How do we get them the assistance that they need even if they’re not well connected with a bunch of lawyers and accountants, to move through the complicated process?”

Another caller asked about making sure the right to vote safely in upcoming elections is protected. Congress is eyeing mail-in voting legislation. Scott said Secretary of State Jim Condos is taking the issue seriously and is exploring options.

“We’ll all work together to make sure that happens,” Scott said. “We have a primary coming up in August and then we’ll go from there. I know it’s on the minds of many and we’ll make sure people have the ability to vote here in state.”

Condos recently wrote an op-ed claiming that the state is well-positioned to reduce in-person voting.

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