01.27.09

Leahy Says Plan OKd Tuesday By Appropriations Committee Is ‘Good Match’ For Vermont’s Budget Deficit And Economy

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Jan. 27) – Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) says the economic stimulus plan approved Tuesday by a key Senate panel is “a good match” to ease Vermont’s widening state budget deficit and to bolster Vermont’s economy.  Leahy is one of the most senior members of the Appropriations Committee, which approved the plan and advanced it to the full Senate.

Leahy said, “Bit by bit, Vermont’s economy and our state budget have been drawn into the nation’s economic crisis.”  He said he has listened to the needs identified by Governor Jim Douglas, Speaker Shap Smith, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and by countless Vermont community and business leaders, and that he and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) have closely consulted. 

“My goal has been to make sure that the Appropriations Committee pays close attention to Vermont’s priorities, and I’m pleased to report that Vermont’s priorities are doing very, very well,” said Leahy.  “This package includes infusions of emergency aid that would directly relieve Vermont’s budget deficit, create new jobs in Vermont and help save existing jobs, and make a timely and constructive difference across our state.  Most of all, this bill needs to create jobs, and our efforts to keep that strong focus have been working.”

Leahy earlier this year spelled out his priorities for the bill in letters to Senate leaders, and the bill approved Tuesday closely tracks his requests.  Leahy said some of the key benefits to Vermont in the Senate Appropriations Committee’s bill include:

SCHOOL DISTRICTS: Vermont schools stand to gain nearly $90 million in education and school repair funds through the No Child Left Behind Act and special education programs.

STATE EDUCATION AND PUBLIC SAFETY BUDGET RELIEF: The Governor and Legislature would have up to $125 million to prevent cuts in education, public safety and other government services.

ANTI-CRIME & LAW ENFORCEMENT: As chairman of the Judiciary Committee Leahy led in putting together the bill’s provisions that would bring about $10 million to Vermont’s law enforcement community.


MEDICAID SHORTFALLS: For Vermont’s Medicaid shortfalls, Vermont would receive an estimated $250 million over two years.

TRANSPORTATION: Vermont would receive about $135 million for highways, bridges and transit needs.

HOUSING: More than $14 billion nationally for housing programs that could bring more than $20 million to Vermont for affordable housing, homeless prevention and Section 8 rental assistance.

CREATING THE JOBS OF THE FUTURE: One of Leahy’s top priorities in the bill, its broadband provisions include $9 billion for expanding broadband access, half of that for rural areas.  It also includes $4 billion for Smart Grid electric lines that might fund a ground-breaking initiative in Vermont.

Combined with the economic recovery tax cuts and mandatory programs announced by the Senate Finance Committee last week, the Senate legislation totals $825 billion.  The Appropriations portion totals $365 billion.  The package would create or sustain an estimated 4 million or more jobs nationwide.

VERMONT AND THE SENATE’S STIMULUS PACKAGE 

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 Senate stimulus bill provides a significant new investment in broadband deployment -- $9 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

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 Senate stimulus bill contains $250 million to provide capital to qualified community development financial institutions (CDFIs) to invest in the development of underserved communities.  The following Vermont institutions are CDFIs that could benefit from the increased funding:  Vermont Community Loan Fund, Community Capital, Opportunities Credit Union (Vermont Development Credit Union), Northern Community Investment Corporation, and Neighborworks of Western Vermont (Rutland West Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc.).  The bill also contains $730 million in SBA loans to stimulate lending to small businesses. 

Nutrition & Health

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 nutrition funding included the Senate stimulus bill 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 attend to the current hunger situation 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 Senate bill provides $16.5 billion for Food Stamp benefits; equaling a 12 percent increase in benefits for households, plus a one-time bonus payment to families that would have an instant effect in Vermont.  The one-time bonus payment for an average Vermont Food Stamp household is expected to be $197 and the one-time bonus payment for an average Vermont senior SNAP recipient living alone would be $122.  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 nationwide, potentially bringing $272,000 in funding to Vermont.

As the economic crisis deepens, families are struggling to meet the staggering increases in health care costs.  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 this bill will help the state implement Vermont’s plans.  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 Senate package includes approximately $250 million in assistance to Vermont's Medicaid program, over two years.

Environment & Energy

As Senator Leahy requested, the Senate stimulus bill would promote sustainable energy technologies and create more ‘green jobs’ in Vermont for today and for tomorrow.  The Senate bill would provide 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 $4.5 billion for electric grid modernization in the Senate bill, and $3.8 billion in loans and grants for much needed water and waste disposal facilities in rural areas.  Also included are $1.3 billion for grants or loans for those who make energy and green retrofit investments, and $400 million for rural businesses initiatives, including the development of renewable energy.  The Senate bill also includes $1.4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency’s nationwide environmental cleanup programs, including Superfund.

Education

In tough economic times, schools in Vermont have been unable to address costly improvements to 50- or 60-year-old buildings made costlier by the high cost of fuel, and students and families are having difficulty meeting the rising costs of tuition.  To address Vermont’s education needs, Leahy said the Senate stimulus package includes $16 billion for school modernization projects nationwide aimed at renovating, repairing and building public schools and early learning facilities giving priority to local projects that meet “green” building standards; a $400 per student increase in Pell Grants; $39 billion to local school districts and public colleges and universities, and up to $60 million to Vermont for Title I and IDEA programs to help disadvantaged youth and fund special education programs.  

Law Enforcement

Crime typically rises during bad economic times, and Senator Leahy led in drafting provisions in the stimulus package to support local and state law enforcement agencies that are on the front lines in combating crime.  Leahy held Judiciary Committee hearings in Rutland and St. Albans last year to seek solutions to drug crime in rural areas, and his stimulus package provisions for law enforcement take special aim at these rural needs.  The Leahy provisions also would help crime victims through the crime victim services providers that also have faced drastic cuts from the Bush Administration, forcing many to curtail services, lay off staff and even close their doors.  

To address this situation, Senator Leahy pushed for increased funding for state and local law enforcement and victims compensation and services in the stimulus package.  Good prevention and treatment programs have been shown to reduce crime.  At Senator Leahy’s request, the Senate stimulus bill includes $3.95 billion to support state and local law enforcement efforts, including $150 million for rural drug enforcement, $300 million to combat domestic 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. 

Transportation

Vermont’s transportation infrastructure is aging and needs repair and in some cases replacement.  At Senator Leahy’s request, the Senate stimulus bill would provide Vermont with a major boost in transportation funding – more than $130 million -- 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 billion for formula highway investments; $8.4 billion for formula investments in public transportation; $5.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for surface transportation investments; $1.1 billion for investments in intercity passenger rail service, and $1.3 billion for investments in air transportation.

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 claimed 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 the Senate’s version of the stimulus legislation.

Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative

The bill includes $35 million to build new Department of State passport agencies to expand access for American citizens to be issued passports promptly, rather than by mail.  Senator Leahy included the funds to build these facilities throughout the country to generate jobs and to improve the customer service provided by the State Department, one of many lessons learned from the passport backlog crisis in 2007. 

These funds are part of an effort by Senator Leahy to prepare the federal government to appropriately implement the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) as the deadline of June 1, 2009 looms.  Senator Leahy intends to encourage the State Department to build one of the passport agencies in Vermont to facilitate trade and tourism in small communities that border Canada. 

In addition to $1 million appropriated in fiscal year 2008 for public outreach about WHTI, Senator Leahy continues to ensure that the public is aware of WHTI requirements, that neighboring countries know that communities in Vermont and other states are open for tourism and business, and that federal agencies are prepared to issue the required documents and border stations are ready to facilitate border crossings. 

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David Carle: 202-224-3693