Vermont is soon to see another wave of federal funding surpassing $200 million, this time from Congress’s annual budget package set to pass this week.
The $1.5 trillion appropriations omnibus is expected to pass Congress ahead of lawmakers’ Friday deadline to fund government operations through the remainder of the fiscal year. The mammoth bill is 2,741 pages long.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who helmed negotiations as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, boasted a 6.7% funding boost for non-defense discretionary programs — the largest increase in four years.
For the first time in more than a decade, lawmakers this year are able to request funding for specific projects in their states, colloquially known as “earmarks.” As with other federal spending bills in recent months like the American Rescue Plan Act and infrastructure bill, Vermont is benefitting from Leahy’s outsize influence as chair.
Leahy alone earmarked more than $167 million for Vermont projects. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., secured more than $38 million and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., more than $8 million.
Many of Leahy’s earmarks focus on rural and agricultural development, notably appropriating $10 million to the University of Vermont to establish an Institute for Rural Partnerships to research rural regions’ “unique challenges in everything from broadband connectivity to water quality.”
Leahy also scored $25 million for Dairy Business Innovation Centers, which support dairy businesses and one of which is located in Vermont, and $5 million to establish a National Farm to School Institute at Shelburne Farms in Vermont.
Nearly $17 million set aside by Leahy would replace the Vermont National Guard’s nearly 100-year-old Readiness Center in Bennington. Another $65 million will go to the Northern Border Regional Commission, which benefits Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York.
Among Sanders’ largest requests is $4.5 million to provide tuition-free community college classes to Vermonters incarcerated in the state’s six correctional facilities, as well as to prison staffers. The money will also cover staffing, tuition and tech support costs. In a press release Wednesday, he said the program will mark “a historic achievement in educational equity and criminal justice reform.”
Sanders also marked $1 million to fund education and training for 145 low-income Vermonters to pursue careers in weatherization, solar-panel and heat-pump installation, commercial driving, allied health and early childhood education — all sectors in which Vermont is experiencing workforce shortages.
He marked another $1 million to fund at least 10 sustainable energy projects at Vermont public schools, and at least 10 at state and municipal buildings such as town halls and public libraries.
Welch’s single largest request was nearly $2.5 million to construct a science annex at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, located in St. Johnsbury. He requested another $1.7 million for the Vermont Farmers Food Center's Heart of Vermont Agriculture Program and $1.3 million to improve flooding resilience at the Tri-Park Cooperative Housing Corporation in Brattleboro, the state’s largest resident-owned mobile home co-op (a request also submitted by Sanders).
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