MILTON — During a visit with the Selectboard on Monday night, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., encouraged Milton’s leaders to think creatively and work collaboratively to spend the town’s American Rescue Plan money.
As early as next week, the Town of Milton will receive $3.2 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. The Milton Town School District will receive $2.9 million.
“This is an opportunity for Milton both in the town and in the school district to make decisions that can have significant long term consequences for the benefit of your people,” Welch said.
The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. The plan aims to help state and local governments rebound from the economic repercussions of COVID-19.
Welch, who has represented Vermont on Capitol Hill since 2007, is currently on a virtual tour of Vermont municipalities. He also recently Zoomed into Selectboard meetings in Colchester, Middlebury and Brattleboro.
“This [pandemic] is a once in a century event,” Welch said. “If we don't want the economy to collapse...and for businesses and town centers to be destroyed, we really have to help.”
By May 10, the U.S. Treasury Department will announce what the American Rescue Plan money can be spent on, though Welch said projects dealing with water and sewer, infrastructure and broadband are already permissible.
All funds must be used by Dec. 31, 2024.
Welch said when the American Rescue Plan was being debated in Congress, he and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., argued it was vital for local governments to have as much flexibility as possible.
“I think the elected representatives in Milton have the closer view, so it's not being dictated from Washington. You have flexibility, with some limitations,” he said.
Town Manager Don Turner said the Town is grateful for the $3.2 million, but that deciding how to spend it will be challenging.
“It’s going to be an interesting experience to figure out how to best utilize these resources, because we all know, it's one time money,” Turner said. “We want to make the biggest impact on the community.”
Welch encouraged the Selectboard to act united and not let partisan politics get in the way of making the best use of the funds.
“Whether you're conservative or liberal, you have to pull together to try to improve the lives of the people you represent,” he said. “As tough as COVID is, I see there's an opportunity for us to be somewhat unified, because there are things we need and there are decisions to make. They need to be beneficial even for the people who didn’t vote for you or who ran against you.”
During the meeting, Welch also reminisced about a day early on in the pandemic when he was the only person on an American Airlines flight from Washington D.C. to Burlington.
“I was on my way to the airport in D.C., and I got a call… ‘Congressman Welch, are you still planning on going to Vermont?’ I said yes and they said, ‘as soon as you get here, we're ready to go,’” he remembered. “I was the only person on the plane.”
Welch recalled getting on the Interstate after the plane landed in Burlington and noticing how few cars there were on the road. Gov. Phil Scott had just announced the state of emergency, and everyone was in a state of shock and panic.
Now, after taking precautions and vaccinating so many people, the state is positioned to make a strong recovery.
“It’s really quite remarkable what we've accomplished since then, to keep Vermont safe,” Welch said.