By Guy Page
An unprecedented infusion of federal “pandemic relief” cash will help Vermonters stay warm and pay for childcare.
The Vermont Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will receive $49 million this year, augmented by a one-time block grant increase authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The program typically receives approximately $20 million each year. LIHEAP benefits are designed to support eligible households with their heating and energy needs.
In 2021-22, Seasonal Fuel Assistance benefits will, on average, increase from $912 to $1,522, and cover 89% of a household’s seasonal fuel bill, state officials say.
“This assistance could not have come at a more important time with fuel bills projected to rise steeply this winter,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a statement issued by the Scott administration.
The senator is correct about the projected rise of energy costs. Thanks to the Biden administration’s cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline, America’s renewed dependence on foreign oil, and supply chain problems, the cost of home heating is expected to rise by 54%, federal officials say. The LIHEAP increase roughly tracks that projected increase.
The Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) announced a new federally-funded program to prop up the state’s child care industry — a sector hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report by U.S. Senate Democrats finds that “one of the key factors holding back the U.S. recovery is that more parents, particularly mothers, are having to choose between going to work and ensuring their children have safe, quality care. According to a recent poll, 13 percent of parents have been forced to reduce hours or quit their jobs because of problems with child care, losing a full day of work per week on average.”
Child Care Stabilization Grants, funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, will help regulated child care providers cover unexpected business costs associated with the pandemic, and “stabilize their operations” so they can continue providing care the Vermont Dept. of Children and families announced yesterday.
Awards will be distributed monthly starting in November 2021 and running through November 2022 (as funding allows). Approved spending categories include:
- Personnel costs (e.g., payroll and salaries, employee benefits, premium pay, and costs for employee recruitment and retention).
- Rent, mortgage payments, utilities, facility maintenance/improvements, and insurance.
- Personal protective equipment, cleaning/sanitizing supplies and services, and training and professional development related to health and safety.
- Equipment and supplies needed to respond to the pandemic.
- Goods and services needed to maintain or resume child care services.
- Mental health support for children, families, and employees.