By Rep. Jim Harrison, Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
President Kennedy’s words, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,” never rang more true than in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all make sacrifices and help out where we can. The spread of the Coronavirus is escalating, as is the response from our state and national governments.
For many of us, helping out is staying home and avoiding person-to-person contact to slow the spread of the virus. For others, it is performing essential health care, suppling needs like food and servicing the public as part of local government emergency response. They deserve many thanks and prayers for continued good health. And for all of us – Please don’t hoard! It only serves to raise fears and deprive others of necessary food and supplies.
If you are in the position of being able to volunteer, there has never been a better time. Check with your individual town or programs, such as Meals on Wheels to see if they need help. There is also an urgent need for blood. If you can, consider donating. And please be sure to follow the Health Department’s guidelines at: vem.vermont.gov/neighborly
Governor Scott, with ongoing advice from Health Commissioner Mark Levine, has been issuing executive orders on a daily basis to deal with the crisis. In just the past week, schools, restaurants, bars, gyms, DMV offices, hair salons/barbershops, some child care centers and many others have been shut down.
Legislative committees have been meeting via conference calls to take up COVID-19 related measures, such as changes to our unemployment laws, health care needs and open meeting laws. As we write this, lawmakers are making plans to reconvene this week to give final passage to the necessary bills.
In addition to the health impacts of the virus, there will be economic ones as well. During this partial shutdown, people are losing their jobs, some businesses are struggling to survive, media outlets and publications that rely on advertisers are on the edge. The next few months will not be business as usual for any of us.
If you can, support your local businesses, your newspapers and online reporting and nonprofits serving the less fortunate. (Vermont received a federal disaster declaration this past weekend so that small businesses may be able to access SBA loans.) On Monday, the Commissioner of Taxes indicated they would provide relief on penalties and interest for businesses unable to meet the March 25 and April 25 filing deadlines due to the implementation of mitigation steps to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In this challenging time, state and local governments, which cannot print money, need to reassess what it is they do and what is necessary right now. The state, for example, is forecasting a $200 million deficit in just the next few months and that is probably optimistic. It is unrealistic to think Vermont and its taxpayers, can make up for all the shortfalls. We can’t meet the needs and desires of everyone. All areas will undoubtedly have to sacrifice.
This is a wakeup call for all of us from the federal down to the local level. But we will get through it and hopefully make some positive changes as a result.
Take care and stay healthy!
Call 211 (the Vermont 211 database) for additional information on Covid-19 and assistance options or visit: healthvermont.gov/covid19.
In the meantime, I will do my best to keep you informed via email updates (to sign up at eepurl.com/gbxzuz) or my Facebook page (facebook.com/harrisonforvermont). You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228.