The state of Vermont is looking to use money left over from COVID relief to fix staffing shortages at jails and prisons alongside an overworked and understaffed state legislature.
The available money is made up of $600 million in COVID relief money from Congress, as well as $2.2 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act. Both pots of money have yet to be fully allocated.
Keeping workers at many state-run facilities is top of mind for Sen. Jane Kitchel, a democrat who represents Caledonia County and runs the Senate budget-writing committee. In jails and prisons, the state faces an extreme staffing shortage.
“It’s very difficult to hire correctional officers and so we are looking at how to use money to keep the workforce in place and give either an incentive to take that job or to remain there,” Kitchel said.
$6 million may go toward pay adjustments and bonuses for correctional workers, she said.
Kitchel, who has overseen yearly adjustments to the state’s budget since 2009, noted that usually the adjustments are small and done to continue the function of government. However, this year things are different.
“This year, the budget adjustments are much larger, so there’s money being proposed for more housing, more money for workforce, trying to deal with the retention issue,” Kitchel said, “it’s much broader in its additional funding than just simply recalibrating.”
Many legislators are overworked and understaffed, and the increased amount of labor brought on by the pandemic has been difficult to navigate.
“Out of 180 people, the workload is not equally distributed,” Kitchel said. “There’s just money and funding and those decisions have just sucked all the oxygen out of the room.”
Technology in some ways has helped by allowing government function to continue with staff working from home. But, the continued use of applications such as Zoom can cause fatigue.
“It’s not only meetings, it’s not only committee work, it’s not only trying to figure out how to put all the pieces together, but the number of emails that you’re getting in the course of the day, just make you feel buried,” Kitchel said.