The Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce is urging local business owners and others to contact the Washington County Senate delegation to express concerns about a bill that may make it hard to find employees when the pandemic is under control.
The legislation, S.10 will increase the weekly unemployment minimum amount of $500 a week by 20% and also add a $50 per week dependent allowance. This comes on top of the American Relief Plan passed by Congress last week that adds another $300 per week to unemployment checks through September.
Chamber board member Kim Donohue at The Inn at the Round Barn said that while she is sympathetic to people making the best decisions they can for their families, she feels that for people to be able to collect up to $950 a week in unemployment will disincentivize people to work in the hospitality industry as well as other sectors of the local and statewide economy.
Similarly, she offered high praise for what the new federal legislation will do in terms of helping families.
“This is really groundbreaking in terms of what it will do for the state of Vermont. It is really helpful, but on the other hand, the added benefits are a fatal and unintended flaw,” she said noting she and other local and state business owners had lobbied Vermont’s Congressional delegation on the issue.
“We asked the federal delegation to reconsider anything in the federal bill that would make it difficult for us to hire workers. They chose the individual worker – it’s really a Sophie’s choice,” she said.
She and others are also concerned about the unemployment trust fund which Vermont businesses fund, paying premiums governed by a multiplier which reflects how well businesses retain employees. Those with better retention pay lower rates.
“We all have experience ratings that range from 0 to 5. If an employer has a good employment history and keeps people in the workforce they may have a 0 or 1 rating. The difference between a 0 rating and a 5 rating is an increase of greater than 100% in what we must pay per employee per pay period,” Donohue explained.
“This will hit every employer in Vermont,” she said, pointing out that changes in experience ratings were paused from March 15, 2020, through December 31, 2020, with another pause envisioned for 2021.
“One thing that we’re asking is that the experience rating increases – which will impact all of us – are capped at only going up 2 ratings or 2 points in 2022. Eventually we’ll have to pay it all back into the unemployment trust fund,” Donohue said.
Beyond unemployment experience ratings, the most immediate issue for her businesses and many others in Vermont is workforce acquisition.
“This is not faulting the employee I’ll have to bear the burden of training new employees and I know I am going to be washing beds and dishes and strap a broom to my back.
“Just when we are going to be allowed to open and operate normally and maximize sorely needed revenue to take care of payments and maintenance which has been deferred for over a year, some businesses will be so bereft of labor that we may need to curtail hours, turndown projects and work, thereby limiting our ability to maximize revenue and have increased payroll expenses to repay the trust fund when we can least afford it,” she said.
She and others want the bill to go back to committee so that people can testify on its impacts.
Washington County Senators and their emails: