02.13.09

Economic Recovery Plan Will Create And Sustain Jobs In Vermont And Relieve The State’s Budget Deficit

WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, Feb. 13) – The U.S. Senate late Friday is expected to join the U.S. House of Representatives in passing and sending to President Obama’s desk an economic recovery package that includes investments throughout Vermont’s economy.  Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) released an updated analysis of Vermont’s stake in the final version of the bill.

Leahy said the plan addresses Vermont’s economic and budget needs that have worsened as the economic crisis spreads.  “Vermont had a seat at the table in writing this bill,” he said.  “This plan is a good match for Vermont’s job needs today, and it will help pave the way for the jobs of the future.  It includes tax reductions for working families and for businesses, it will improve our economic infrastructure, and it will relieve Vermont’s state budget deficit.”

The total economic recovery package is $789 billion, and it would create or sustain an estimated 3 million or more jobs nationwide.  Vermont is expected to receive more than $600 million in direct federal funding under this package, with additional funds coming to Vermont through competitive grant programs and through tax reductions for individuals and businesses.  

The infrastructure and investment sections of the bill were written in the Senate by the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Leahy is the third-most-senior member.  The bill closely tracks Leahy’s priorities for Vermont, including:

  • SCHOOL DISTRICTS:  Vermont schools stand to gain nearly $60 millionin education funding through the No Child Left Behind Act and special education programs.
  • STATE EDUCATION AND BUDGET RELIEF:  The final bill includes $53.6 billion for state fiscal stabilization efforts nationwide, including $39.5 billion to local school districts.  For Vermont, the bill would provide the Governor and Legislature with more than $100 million to prevent cuts in vital education, public safety, and other governmental program. 
  • TRANSPORTATION:  Vermont would receive more than $130 million for highway, bridge and transit needs. 
  • MEDICAID SHORTFALLS:  For Vermont’s Medicaid shortfalls, Vermont would receive an estimated $250 million over two years.
  • NUTRITION:  Vermont would see approximately $34 million increase in food stamp benefits and at least $600,000 in Food Stamp administration funds to ensure that recipients are adequately served.
  • AGRICULTURE:  More than $190 million nationally in direct farm operating loans to ensure access to credit for Vermont farmers.
  • ENVIRONMENT & ENERGY:  Vermont would receive nearly $39 million for clean water and safe drinking water programs and more than $17 million for weatherization programs.
  • CREATING THE JOBS OF THE FUTURE:  A key Leahy priority, the broadband provisions include $7.2 billion for expanding broadband access and $11 billion for Smart Grid electric lines that could fund a ground-breaking initiative in Vermont.
  • ANTI-CRIME & LAW ENFORCEMENT:  As chairman of the Judiciary Committee Leahy led in putting together the bill’s provisions that would bring nearly $11.6 million to Vermont’s law enforcement community.
  • HOUSING:  More than $11 billion nationally for housing programs that could bring millions of dollars to Vermont for affordable housing, homeless prevention and Section 8 rental assistance.

Broadband

Vermont still faces a deep digital divide in broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas, due in large part to the failure of broadband providers to offer services to rural areas and to the lack of a strategic, national plan to make broadband access a universal service.  Though the federal government has begun making investments in broadband expansion, economic opportunities in rural areas could be substantially expanded by accelerating these broadband access programs.  The bill provides a $7.2 billion investment in new broadband activities.

Transportation

Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is aging and needs repair and in some cases replacement.  The bill would provide Vermont with a major boost in transportation funding – $125.8 million for highways and bridges and $5.6 million for transit – for state and local officials to make much needed improvements to our highways, bridges, rail lines, transit systems, and airports.  Specifically, the bill includes $27.5 billion for formula highway investments; $6.9 billion for formula investments in public transportation; $1.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for surface transportation investments; $9.3 billion for investments in rail transportation, including Amtrak; and $1.3 billion for investments in air transportation.

Health & Nutrition

As the economic crisis deepens, families are struggling to meet the staggering increases in health care costs.  One of the largest drains on state budgets across the country is funding Medicaid.  This bill will make it easier for Vermont to maintain and strengthen the state’s Medicaid program through a temporary, across-the-board increase of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP).  The package includes approximately $250 million in assistance to Vermont's Medicaid program, over two years.

Long-term cost cutting measures, such as the use of electronic medical records, can help stimulate the health care economy and create much needed jobs.  Vermont has been a leader in advancing health information technology, and the $19 billion in grants and incentive payments included in this bill will help the State implement those plans. 

With the dramatic rise in both food prices and unemployment, the current economic situation severely affects the food security of Vermont families.  With more than 10 percent of all households in Vermont considered 'hunger insecure,' the bill’s nutrition funding would provide an effective and immediate economic boost, while helping families put food on the table.  This bill strengthens the national nutrition safety net and target nutrition assistance to families and communities struggling to make ends meet.

To address current hunger needs in Vermont, Senator Leahy pushed for an increase in funding for the Food Stamp program (now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)).  The bill provides $19.9 billion for Food Stamp benefits, equaling a 13.6 percent increase in benefits for households.  Also included in the Senate package is $500 million for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which will prevent more than 625,000 low-income women, infants, and children from losing their WIC benefits.  Among Senator Leahy's other suggestions, the Senate stimulus bill also contains $150 million funding for Food Banks and Pantries nationwide, potentially bringing $272,000 in funding to Vermont.

Environment & Energy

As Senator Leahy requested, the bill promotes sustainable energy technologies and create more ‘green jobs’ in Vermont for today and for tomorrow.  It provides more than $40 billion to the Department of Energy for the development of clean, efficient American energy.  Vermont would also benefit from the inclusion of $11 billion for electric grid modernization, $3.8 billion in loans and grants for much needed water and waste disposal facilities, and $6 billion for local clean drinking water infrastructure improvements.  The bill also includes $1.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.  Specifically, Vermont would receive nearly $39 million for clean water and safe drinking water programs and over $17 million for weatherization programs.

Housing

Though Vermont is reported to have one of the lowest foreclosure rates in the country, more and more Vermonters are facing foreclosure and are at risk of losing their homes.  In addition, according to last year’s housing and wages report prepared by the Vermont Housing Awareness Campaign and the Vermont Housing Council, nearly two thirds of Vermonters cannot afford to pay median rent or to purchase an average home in the state of Vermont.  That same report asserted that Vermont has the highest rate of homelessness in New England.  Senator Leahy ensured that programs aimed at making homes more affordable for Vermonters, providing shelter to the homeless, and addressing the foreclosure crisis were included in final bill.

Education

In tough economic times, schools in Vermont have faced many budget cuts and students and families are having difficulty meeting the rising costs of tuition.  To address Vermont’s education needs, the package includes $90-100 million in relief to school budgets, nearly $60 million to Vermont for Title I and IDEA programs to help disadvantaged youth and fund special education programs, and a $500 per student increase in Pell Grants. 

Small Business Assistance

Vermont businesses continue to struggle with tightening credit conditions that keep them from retaining their employees or expanding their businesses.  Senator Leahy pushed for funding that will encourage lending to small business and housing projects across Vermont.  As a result, the bill contains $100 million to provide capital to qualified community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to invest in the development of underserved communities and $3 billion for the New Markets Tax Credit Program, which potentially could provide Vermont with $25 million in new economic development tax credits.  The bill also contains $636 million in SBA loans to stimulate lending to small businesses. 

Law Enforcement

Helping state and local law enforcement agencies during this economic downturn will keep America safe and our economy moving.  Crime typically rises during bad economic times, and Senator Leahy led the effort to include provisions in the bill to support local and state law enforcement agencies that are on the front lines in combating crime. 

Last year, Leahy held Judiciary Committee hearings in Rutland and St. Albans to seek solutions to drug crime in rural areas, and the law enforcement provisions he pushed for take special aim at these rural needs.  He also has heard from crime victim services providers in Vermont that have faced drastic budget cuts over the past eight years, which forced many to curtail services, lay off staff, and even close their doors.  

To address these situations, Senator Leahy led the way for increased funding for state and local law enforcement and victims compensation and services.  Good prevention and treatment programs have been shown to reduce crime.  At Senator Leahy’s request, the plan includes $2.675 billion to support state and local law enforcement efforts nationwide, including $125 million for rural drug enforcement.  In addition to the state and local law enforcement funding, the bill provides an additional $225 million to combat domestic and sexual violence, $100 million to support state victims’ compensation and assistance programs, and $1 billion to put new state and local law enforcement officers on the streets.  This money will provide Vermont law enforcement officials with approximately $11.6 million in additional resources.  

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[Source: Office of Senator Patrick Leahy; Updated Fri., Feb. 13, 2009]

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