Addison County will receive just over $4 million in Covid-19 relief money due to the recent passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). It’s a small part of the $2.7 billion the state receives from the same source.
The catch is the money must be used for pandemic-related expenses. According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Vergennes, for example, will get $255,470 from the funds, while Middlebury gets $868,383, Bristol gets 379,991, and smaller towns like Goshen ($16,121) and Leicester ($107,410) and Bridport ($116,509).
There’s another “pool” of money allocated to “counties” but since Vermont has no effective county government, those funds are added to the town and city allotments. In Vergennes’ case, those funds add about $500,000, which is how Vergennes gets a total of $756,383 in COVID-related funding from the ARP. Half of the money comes within 60 days and the second half comes a year later. School districts get additional money from the ARP; Addison Northwest School District, for example, will receive $1,760,000.
The immediate question facing municipalities and school districts is how best to spend that money in ways that address the impact of COVID-19 on their residents. In making this announcement to area municipalities at the Vergennes Council Meeting Tuesday night, Rep. Peter Welch said his office was ready to help local governments discuss their options and try to make solutions work within those parameters.
Each town has its own unique circumstances, but a few thoughts common to all towns come to mind:
• Communication: Telemedicine, basic information about the COVID-19 virus, remote work and remote education became absolute necessities for many during the pandemic. If no other issue comes to the fore for each community, improving the capacity for broadband access is a laudable goal for every town.
• While considering broadband access, it’s important to remember that not every household has a computer, or residents who are computer savvy. The answer isn’t to put a computer in every household, but for municipal and/or school libraries to offer those services — along with the assistance needed to, for example, register for a vaccination shot.
• Food security: One of the shocking facts we learned during this past year is how quickly some households face food insecurity issues when breadwinners are temporarily laid off. Through Meals on Wheels, and numerous school-related connections, those gaps were discovered and help was delivered. One use of a small amount of these funds could be used to catalogue that experience, so that if help is needed again for any reason, the appropriate town or school officials can be ready to help. Privacy issues abound, of course, but, particularly at the local level, workarounds can be found when help is crucial; and agencies like the United Way of Addison County are eager to provide assistance.
• Joining forces: Smaller towns with small amounts of money may not be able to address larger issues in any substantial way, though if combined with neighboring towns, the projects might be more fruitful. Working together could allow for bigger projects to be addressed.
Finally, there is no race to spend this money. It’s far better to plan well and spend thoughtfully, than to be the first out of the gate. And there’s no shame in learning from those around you. Patience and thorough study in these matters may prove the wisest course of action.