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Upper Valley benefiting from ‘Rescue’ grants

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 9/5/2021 8:08:33 PM
Modified: 9/6/2021 7:58:45 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Millions of dollars in federal stimulus money has begun flowing into the coffers of Upper Valley towns and organizations in Vermont as the state announced it sent the first installment to recipients last week.

The stimulus money, in addition to regular block grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development channeled through the state government, comes from the two massive financial relief programs — the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan — passed into law during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assuming a lead role in the disbursement of the funds, Woodstock-based Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission is charged with administering $1.7 million in CARES Act “business stabilization” program awards to small businesses across eight counties in central and northern Vermont.

“We picked them because they ran a very similar assistance program for block grants after Tropical Storm Irene,” said Josh Hanford, Vermont’s commissioner of Housing and Community Development. “They had all the systems still in place.”

Kevin Geiger, a Two Rivers senior planner, said that so far $1.1 million of the $1.7 million has “gone out the door” to a total of 105 recipients, averaging about $8,000 each, of which 16 are in Windsor County and 11 in Orange County.

Geiger said the recipients are sole proprietorships, typically comprising of one or two people, and include the likes of “hairdressers, farmers, wedding photographers, a nail salon, these are the people really hurting and we wanted to get the money to them quickly.” 

Each year the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, with funding provided by HUD, gets to distribute between $7 million and $8 million in federal grants to Vermont cities and towns, which apply for the funding on behalf of local organizations through a competitive application process.

 But this year the annual grant money is supplemented  by another $8.8 million in special block grant funding to support businesses, public facilities and service programs that have been affected by the pandemic.

Recipients of the block grant funding in the Upper Valley include $300,000 for the Randolph Village water system and $50,000 for the Orange County Parent and Child Center in Randolph and $44,000 for the Cornerstone Community Center in Hartford. In addition, the coworking space Space on Main in Bradford, Vt., received $14,000 via a CARES Act program.

Sharon Miller-Dombroskl, a consultant to Cornerstone who put together the application for the grant, said the money will be used to commission a feasibility study “to give us insight in how to protect the historical structure” of the former Elks Lodge building in Hartford Village where the nonprofit has already begun providing social services such as a food pantry and after-school program.

That is a key step in becoming fully operational, she said.

“Once the feasibility study is done we’ll know the full cost of renovation in getting the facility to open and then we can apply for an implementation grant,” Miller-Dombroski said.

Last week, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott also announced that the state released the first $60.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to Vermont’s towns and villages.

A second $60.6 million installment will be released next year.

The amount of money each town receives is proportional to the town’s population: Hartford, the biggest town on the Vermont side of the river in the Upper Valley, is to receive $1 million, with $500,000 given this year and $500,000 to be given next year while Newbury Village, will receive a total of $37,000.

Douglas Farnham, chief of operations in the Secretary of Administration’s Office, said that about 200 Vermont towns are set up to receive the funds electronically deposited into their bank accounts but that about 70 towns still required mailed paper checks.

Only Searsburg, Vt., in Bennington County declined to receive the money: Farnham said the Selectboard there voted against it.

Farnham said that a total of $2.5 billion will come to Vermont from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act, although that represents only about 40% of the more than $6 billion in total pandemic relief related money scheduled to flow into the state in coming years.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said.

Two River’s Geiger, who along with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns is advising municipalities on how they can spend the money, said “guidance is evolving” but expects much of it to be applied toward water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects.

Geiger, however, said he does have one dictum on how towns can’t spend their stimulus money.

“Don’t buy a loader,” he advised. “Everybody wants a loader.” 

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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