01.12.09

Leahy Presses 3 Priorities For Smaller States And Rural Areas In Stimulus Package

WASHINGTON (MONDAY, Jan. 12) – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is pressing for rural flexibility in the forthcoming economic stimulus package to make sure it suitably addresses the infrastructure needs of smaller states and rural communities.

In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), Leahy – one of the panel’s most senior members -- urges three steps to shape the plan to help meet rural America’s needs:

1)      Allow the pass-through of some infrastructure funds to local communities that have ready-to-go projects, due to concerns about the capacity of small states to makes contracting decisions under compressed timelines. 

2)      Including broadband deployment projects, especially in rural areas, and ensuring broadband project allocations to smaller states.

3)      Including support for local and state law enforcement in the stimulus package, especially through the COPS hiring program and the Byrne Grant law enforcement assistance program.  Leahy illuminated the anti-crime and anti-drug crime needs of rural communities in a series of hearings he has held in the Judiciary Committee, including field hearings in Rutland and St. Albans.

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The text of Leahy’s letter follows:

January 12, 2009 

The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye

Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Inouye:  

As Congress begins work on shaping an economic stimulus bill, I hope adequate flexibility will be provided to small and rural states so that they will be able to benefit fully from this vital economic recovery legislation.   

First, I am concerned about the ability of small states to constructively use the influx of federal funds under compressed timelines.  I understand the need to start moving quickly on these much-needed infrastructure projects, but I am concerned about all of the funding decisions being made at the state level and money not filtering down to municipalities that also have ready-to-go projects.  I suggest that either a certain percentage of the new highway and bridge money be set aside for pass-through to counties, cities and towns, or these municipalities be allowed to apply for the dollars if a state cannot allocate this funding in a timely manner.    

Second, the United States 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 -- primarily through programs at USDA Rural Development and modest investments at the Economic Development Administration -- we could substantially expand economic opportunities in rural areas by providing significant funding to these broadband access programs — including the USDA Broadband Loan Guarantee program.  In addition, including a minimum funding allocation for each state, such as 0.75 percent, would allow all states to benefit from broadband funding.   

Third, state and local law enforcement officials rely on federal funding through the Byrne Grant program and the COPS hiring program.  The series of hearings on rural crime I have held in the Judiciary Committee during the past year have shown an acute need for drug and law enforcement funding, directly targeting rural areas.  Rural areas, which lack the crime prevention and law enforcement resources often available in larger communities, have a particular need for assistance to combat the worsening drug and crime problems that threaten the well-being of our small cities and towns and, most particularly, our young people.  

Again, I hope that the unique nature of rural states will be appropriately and effectively recognized and incorporated into the upcoming economic stimulus legislation.  Thank you in advance for your consideration of this request.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. 

Sincerely, 

PATRICK LEAHY
United States Senator

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