The Leahy Letter -- May 5, 2011

After A Decade, Justice:
Senator Leahy Speaks About The Death Of Osama Bin Laden

Following the announcement of the attack by U.S. Navy SEALS on a compound in Pakistan housing Osama bin Laden and his subsequent demise, Senator Leahy made the following remarks on the floor of the Senate.

"Today is a memorable day in our Nation’s history. Osama bin Laden, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, including so many Americans lost on September 11, 2001, has been killed.

"Osama bin Laden cloaked his attacks in anti-American rhetoric, but his murderous and criminal path took the lives of innocents around the world, including many of his own faith. He proved himself be a cold-blooded murderer, whose indiscriminate attacks have led to the death or maiming of Muslims and people of other faiths all around the world. Regrettably, he leaves behind followers who are committed to the same message of hate and destruction. They have no regard for the values that unite the rest of humanity in common cause.

"Now, I hope that Americans will claim this moment to stand side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, as we did in the weeks and months following the September 11 attacks. We must transcend our differences and stand in unity. We are unified in our support for the victims of bin Laden’s crimes and in our resolve to keep our Nation safe."

Congress Concludes Battle Over Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

Senator Leahy speaks on the floor of the Senate in opposition to the Fiscal Year 2011 budget bill just prior to the Senate vote on the legislation.

On April 15 President Obama signed into law the federal budget for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. The bill, which was the subject of a great deal of contentious debate, makes significant cuts to programs and departments across the board.

In response to the passage of the FY 2011 continuing resolution, Senator Leahy said, "Advocates paint this agreement in moral terms. I agree with them on that. Budgets are about our real priorities. There is so much in this budget package that is inconsistent with basic Vermont and American values. Drastic cuts to the anti-hunger programs for low-income women and children, elimination of Vermont's weatherization program, cuts in economic development programs that grow jobs in my state of Vermont -- these are not my idea of prudent sacrifices."

Programs that stand to suffer from cuts in discretionary spending include Community Development Block Grants, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Community Health Centers, USDA's Women, Infants, and Children program, homeless vouchers for veterans and billions in foreign assistance. Just prior to the final Senate vote on the budget, Senator Leahy spoke on the floor of the Senate in opposition to the legislation. To watch Senator Leahy's speech, please click here.

Digital Conversion Grants
Will Boost Vermont Public Radio's Coverage, Quality

In late April Senator Leahy announced that Vermont Public Radio has been awarded five new digital conversion grants totaling more than $400,000 for upgrades and improvements to VPR's broadcast systems. The grants, which are part of a larger block awarded to public radio and television stations across the country by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, will allow VPR to greatly enhance the scope and quality of the services it offers in a network that helps knit Vermont together.

VPR will use the grants to purchase and install equipment across the state to increase the digital power level of existing radio signals within its current analog coverage area. Digital radio provides clearer and richer sound quality and is more resistant to interference, making it ideal for mountainous states like Vermont.

The Leahy Food Safety Accountability Act
Wins Senate Approval

On April 14 the Senate unanimously approved Senator Leahy's bill to strengthen criminal penalties against companies that knowingly violate food safety standards. The Food Safety Accountability Act will impose stricter prison sentences and fines for individuals and corporations that contaminate the nation's food supply by knowingly distributing contaminated food products with disregard for consumer safety. Senator Leahy first introduced the legislation in July 2010 after several nationwide recalls of tainted food products. The bill is now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Leahy Exercises Oversight
Of US Agency on International Development

Senator Leahy questions USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah at an oversight hearing.

On April 12 Senator Leahy chaired a hearing of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations with Dr. Raj Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who testified about the agency's Fiscal Year 2012 budget request. President Obama is seeking increases in funding for USAID and Senator Leahy agrees that much of what is requested is justified, but he also noted that the need to control spending will require making do with less. Senator Leahy emphasized that USAID's mission is integral to our national security, a view shared by most former Secretary of States and National Security Advisors, as well as Secretary of Defense Gates and General Petraeus. He noted that there are countless examples around the world where USAID has had a profound and positive impact in ways that directly advance U.S. interests.

Senator Leahy observed that when Administrator Shah took over USAID a year and a half ago, it was an agency struggling with management and programmatic weaknesses including a lack of technical staff, poorly designed projects, mega-contracts and wasted taxpayer dollars. With the hearing and subcommittee's oversight work, Senator Leahy's panel is focusing on efforts to make USAID a more efficient, flexible, and less risk-averse agency that rewards creativity. He said significant progress has been made, but much work remains.

Please click here to watch video from the hearing.

Senator Leahy Introduces Bill
To Help Dairy Farmers With Stable Workforce

Senator Leahy has introduced legislation to help dairy farmers, sheepherders and goat herders secure the workers they need to keep farms in Vermont and elsewhere running throughout the year. The H-2A Improvement Act will allow dairy farm workers who secure H-2A work visas to enter the country for an initial period of three years. The Leahy reforms also would give the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service the authority to approve a worker for an additional three-year period. Senator Leahy's legislation will address rules issued by the Labor Department in 2010 that excluded certain agricultural workers, including dairy workers, from the visa program.

'Teaming With Wildlife' Recognizes Senator Leahy
For Support Of State Wildlife Conservation Efforts

On April 14, Teaming with Wildlife presented Senator Leahy with an award in recognition of his longtime support of federally funded state and tribal wildlife efforts. The umbrella group is a national coalition of organizations committed to protecting thousands of species of birds, fish, and mammals across the United States. The group is the foremost advocate of State Wildlife Grants and oversees a large majority of the state wildlife action plans to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered.

Senator Leahy Spotlights Crime Victims' Needs
With Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing

On April 13 Senator Leahy chaired a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the federal Crime Victims Fund and related support for crime victims. The nation marked the 30th annual Crime Victim's Rights Week in April. A former prosecutor in Vermont, Senator Leahy long has championed victims' rights and works closely with the Vermont Center for Victims of Crime to improve local access to federal resources to help crime victims. A key to these efforts si protecting the Crime Victim's Fund, which provides monetary support for crime victims and their families using money raised through fines and penalties paid by federal offenders.

Through Vermont Delegation's Efforts,
VSAC Receives $1.3 Million For Its Mission To Students

The Vermont congressional delegation announced in April that the U.S. Department of Education is providing $1.3 million in additional funding for the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) to support their mission of providing grants, loans and scholarships to students. Senator Sanders, who is a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, took the lead to secure the funds with ongoing support from Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch.

In addition to the added funding, the delegation secured a higher rate for servicing student loans from the Education Department. The Federal Student Loan Service will provide VSAC with $1 million in conversion fees and up to $300,000 to cover costs associated with servicing the first 100,000 new loans provided by VSAC and other nonprofit state lending organizations.

Senator Leahy said, "No student should be denied the opportunities of a college education because of her or his family's financial resources. I continue to hear from students and adult learners across the state that VSAC's outreach counselors gave them the support they needed to graduate."

News You Can Use: Leahy Trade Assistance Grants

Funds secured earlier by Senator Leahy for the Vermont Global Trade Partnership are being put to work to help Vermont companies seeking opportunities to export their goods and services. Several Vermont employers already have taken advantage of the funds, which are available in the form of grants to help cover the cost of admission to international trade shows and to assist in covering fees associated with the Department of Commerce Gold Key Program.

The Vermont Global Trade Partnership is now accepting applications for the Leahy Trade Assistance Grant program. To complete an online application, please click here .

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David Carle: 202-224-3693