10.17.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery

Mr. President, I would like to take a few moments to talk about the Transportation-HUD appropriations bill that the Senate will next be debating.

First I want to thank the Subcommittee Chair, Senator Murray, and the Ranking Member, Senator Collins, for all of the assistance they have provided me on several issues that are particularly important to Vermont – and especially in the wake of Hurricane Irene’s massive devastation just a few short weeks ago. 

As I have spoken about here on the floor many times now, Vermont bore the full brunt of Hurricane Irene.  Roads, bridges, homes, businesses and farms all over the State were wiped out – with repair estimates topping $900 million.  It is devastation I have never seen before in Vermont. 

As I have gone around Vermont surveying the damage, it is clear that our small state is stretched to the limit right now.  Without adequate Federal disaster recovery aid, Vermont will not have the resources needed to rebuild the lifelines that these destroyed roads, homes, and businesses represent in the daily lives of so many Vermonters and their communities.

Several Federal disaster programs are woefully underfunded right now.  For instance the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Fund has less than $140 million left in reserves and already faces a backlog of more than $2 billion in repair projects from previous disasters – including more than $700 million in Vermont alone.  And HUD has no funding available to provide Community Development Block Grant funding to help our state rebuild. 

That is why, given the scale of the damage facing Vermont and other states, I pushed hard in this bill for $1.9 billion in emergency highway funding and for the vital state waivers that will allow states to access the crucial repair work they need without overly restrictive cost-sharing requirements.  As I have talked with Governor Shumlin, Senator Sanders, Congressman Welch and other state and municipal officials across Vermont about Vermont’s rebuilding needs, this account and these waivers are always at the top of the priority list. 

Also important to Vermonters in this bill are the provisions that will permanently shift heavy trucks from overburdened state secondary roads, which wind through many downtowns across our state, to the state’s Interstate highways.  This will especially help Vermont businesses and communities that are struggling most from the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged by Irene.  I am pleased to have been able to work with Senator Collins in including this Vermont provision and a similar provision for Maine in this bill.

I also am glad that the bill includes $400 million in emergency CDBG funding.  This addition is a critical down payment to addressing the housing needs of those impacted by both Irene and flooding this past spring.  As with the highways account, I hope as new estimates come in that we can work in conference to ensure there is adequate funding to assist communities rebuilding in the weeks and months ahead.

With winter on the doorstep, and just weeks to accomplish so much, we need the Federal government’s full and immediate support.  Vermonters are working hard to make the necessary emergency repairs and the permanent repairs as quickly as possible – but we need this funding and waiver flexibility.  It is essential. 

Mr. President, as we move forward on this important package of appropriations bills today, I hope we can continue to work together in a bipartisan manner to replenish accounts like the highway emergency relief fund and CDBG so that communities facing natural disasters in all 50 states around the country can start rebuilding as quickly as possible.

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