Leahy: Appropriations Bill includes funding for Lake Champlain, rural communities, combating the opioid epidemic

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Leahy: Appropriations Bill includes funding for Lake Champlain, rural communities, combating the opioid epidemic

Thu, 03/22/2018 - 12:00pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Senate and House Appropriations Committee leaders Wednesday morning completed lengthy and intense negotiations on an appropriations bill to fund the federal government through September 30.  Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, played a leading role in the negotiations, on which work began last May, and secured several key victories for Vermont.

This will be the first appropriations bill completed from start to finish with Leahy as the committee’s Vice Chairman. Leahy became Vice Chairman in January 2017, and then worked to complete the Fiscal Year 17 appropriations bill negotiations.

Leahy said: “This bill is the result of intense negotiations, tough choices, and good-faith compromises.  This bill resoundingly rejects the Trump budget’s attack on Vermont priorities and rural America.  It invests in Lake Champlain, rural broadband and infrastructure.  It makes landmark investments to address the opioid crisis.  It provides new funding for farm-to-school programs and supports organic farming and small dairies.  It is not the bill I would have written on my own, but it is a bill that reflects Vermont’s values, and delivers for our state in ways only possible when Vermont has a front-and-center seat at the negotiating table.”

A bipartisan budget agreement passed in early February allowed for significant, new investments in domestic priorities important to Vermont.  Leahy and other Democratic leaders successfully pressed during those negotiations for budget “parity,” to make possible investments here at home, in addition to the military budget increases sought by President Trump. 

Trump at the time slammed Democrats for seeking budget parity, but since then has touted initiatives only made possible by the agreement, including sizable new investments to counter the opioid epidemic.  The budget parity agreement also allows dedicated resources to rebuilding America’s infrastructure, improving health care facilities for veterans, improving access to affordable health care for all Americans, ensuring the security of U.S. elections, supporting advances in scientific research, and investing in rural communities in Vermont and across the country. 

The bill must now pass both the House and the Senate and be signed into law by the President.  Attached are Vermont highlights championed by Leahy in the appropriations bill.

At-A-Glance

Vermont Highlights In The 2018 Appropriations Bill

LAKE CHAMPLAIN:

  •        More than $14 million is secured for the cleanup and research of the Lake Champlain Basin, which  includes:
    •    $8.4 million for the Lake Champlain Basin Program – a $4 million, or 90 percent, increase over fiscal year 2017.  These funds address water quality challenges in Lake Champlain, particularly in managing phosphorus runoff. Leahy has long been a champion of the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
    •    $5.5 million for sea lamprey control – a $2 million increase over fiscal year 2017. 
  •        $65 million for the National Sea Grant Program – Sea Grants help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) partner with the University of Vermont for research and management of fisheries, water quality, invasive species control and other efforts for Lake Champlain and its surrounding watershed.  This increase will ensure that Vermont receives at least $1 million in Sea Grant funding for the University of Vermont, which is a Sea Grant Institute due in large part to Leahy’s efforts. 

COMBATTING THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC:

  •        The bill includes $3.3 billion total across several federal departments and agencies to combat this national epidemic across several departments and agencies, including:
    •    $32 million for Anti-Heroin Task Forces (AHTF) grants – a $22 million, or 220 percent, increase over fiscal year 2017.  Leahy created this program in 2015, and the Vermont State Police have received $2.7 million in AHTF grants since 2015 to continue its aggressive work to combat opioid addiction in Vermont. 
    •    $1 billion for a new State Opioid Response Grant program, under which Vermont will receive a minimum of $4 million, negotiated by Leahy
    •    $130 million for a new Leahy-backed Rural Communities Opioids Response to help rural communities at the highest risk for substance use disorder. 

AGRICULTURE:

  •        $5 million in discretionary funding for the Farm-to-School program, which brings fresh, local food to schools across the country and was authored by Leahy. The program is currently supported by $5 million in mandatory funding; this reflects the first time the program has also been supported by discretionary funds.
  •        $3 million for the ACER Access and Development Program, an increase of $2 million over fiscal year 2017, to support and enhance the growth of the maple syrup industry. 
  •        $12 million for the National Organic Program, an increase of $3 million over fiscal year 2017, to provide sufficient resources for enforcement and oversight to keep pace with the growing organic industry. 

RURAL VERMONT:

  •        $600 million to expand access to high-speed broadband in remote, unserved rural areas, a $534 million increase over fiscal year 2017. 
  •        $18 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), an $8 million increase over fiscal year 2017.  The NBRC supports development in economically distressed norther border counties in Vermont, New Hampshire, Main and New York, like Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.  Included in this funding is $3 million for the development of markets for new wood products.
  •        Rejects the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone program.  REAP Zones promote revitalization and community development in rural areas, like the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont.
  •        $34 million for the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) Program, a $10 million increase over fiscal year 2017.  RBDG invest directly in rural communities to help residents start or expand businesses.  These grants are used for job training, business development, technical assistance and strategic community development. 
  •        $47 million for the Rural Housing Voucher Program, an increase of $5.6 million over fiscal year 2017.  This will help ensure that rural communities in Vermont and across the U.S. maintain access to affordable housing.

INFRASTRUCTURE/HOUSING:

  •        $3.64 billion for LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), a $250 million increase over fiscal year 2017 and the highest funding level for the block grant since fiscal year 2011. The President’s budget proposed to eliminate LIHEAP.  This will secure an estimated $1.39 million in additional funds for Vermont for a total of $20.4 million in LIHEAP funds in fiscal year 2018.
  •        $97 million for the Historic Preservation Fund, $13 million for Save America’s Treasures, and $5 million in new Historic Revitalization Grants to revitalize historic properties of national, State and local significance in order to restore, protect and foster economic development in rural villages and downtown areas.
  •        $1.5 billion for the TIGER program, a $1 billion increase over fiscal year 2017 levels.  Vermont has received more than $30 million through the TIGER program to improve its infrastructure. 
  •        $3.3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program, an increase of $300 million over fiscal year 2017.  This increase will ensure approximately $7.7 million in grants to help Vermont invest in rural infrastructure and housing.
  •        $1.4 billion for the HOME program, rejecting the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the program.  This will result in approximately $4.3 million in funding to help Vermont invest in affordable housing. 

VETERANS:

  •        $40 million for the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD), rejecting the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate the Center, which is headquartered in White River Junction, Vt.
  •        An additional $5 million to help veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure, like the members of the Vermont National Guard who were exposed to fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT (VAWA) AND CRIME VICTIMS FUND:

  •        $492 million for programs – an $8.5 million increase over fiscal year 2017 levels and the highest funding level ever for VAWA administered by the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women. This includes $35 million for transitional housing and $40 million for rural domestic violence programs, which are both Leahy-authored programs.  Leahy is the author of the 2013 legislation that strengthened and reauthorized VAWA. 
  •        Leahy also included first-time funding of $50 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support new rapid rehousing projects to serve victims and survivors of domestic violence.

·       More than $4.4 billion for the Crime Victims Fund, a $1.8 billion increase, a fund supported by penalties and fines that supports victims services and compensation.

Leahy said:  “Lake Champlain will always be our ‘great lake.’  These investments will continue and expand the work being done to ensure that Lake Champlain’s resources and beauty are preserved for us and for our children and grandchildren.  I am proud of the efforts that Vermonters are making for Lake Champlain’s health and vibrancy, and I will continue to support these efforts from the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was a leading member in the months of bill writing and negotiations leading to Wednesday’s release of an appropriations package to fund the government through September, and he ensured that Lake Champlain’s needs were supported by the bill.  

President Trump has opposed a wide range of environmental priorities, including dedicated funding for Lake Champlain.  The Trump administration’s budget would have eliminated all of the EPA’s Geographic Programs, abandoning a significant portion of federal support for ongoing regional clean-up projects in areas like Lake Champlain, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, all of which partner with local programs to find solutions.  In large complex ecosystems like Lake Champlain, stopping investments into cleanup efforts would have reverberating consequences that would result in losing the progress we have made.  As one of the Geographic Programs, the Lake Champlain Program grants millions of dollars to local communities and organizations for pollution prevention and education work.

The final year-long appropriations bill, which Congress is poised to consider Thursday and Friday, includes $8.4 million for the EPA’s Lake Champlain Program, a 90 percent increase in funding over fiscal year 2017.  This expanded funding will be used to improve water quality in Lake Champlain, including managing phosphorous runoff.   

The bill also includes $5.5 million -- $2 million more than in fiscal year 2017 – for sea lamprey control and other work to restore aquatic habitat and fisheries in the Champlain basin.  Additionally, through his work as the Ranking Member of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, Leahy secured $250,000 for a long overdue resource study for Lake Memphremgog’s binational fishery, and $1 million for the multi-year binational study on the causes and impacts of flooding in the Lake Champlain Richelieu River Watershed.

The final bill also includes $65 million for the National Sea Grant Program.  Leahy has been working with the University of Vermont to secure institutional designation for Lake Champlain under the Sea Grant program.  Such designation would ensure at least $1 million for Lake Champlain under the program for research on fisheries, water quality, invasive species control and other efforts related to the Lake Champlain Basin.

Leahy has long been a champion of Lake Champlain, fighting every year for the Lake Champlain Basin program, and he was the impetus for inclusion of the University of Vermont in the Sea Grant program.

Leahy said:  “LIHEAP is a vital lifeline to more than 25,000 Vermonters who are struggling to heat their homes during the cold winter months.  This winter alone, Vermont experienced a cold snap that spanned several weeks, causing many Vermont households to burn through their fuel assistance faster than normal for winter heating.  And snowstorms both this and last week are stark reminders that winter is not over in Vermont.  Without this help, many would be forced to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table.”

Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a longtime advocate of strengthening LIHEAP, was a leading member in the months of bill writing and negotiations leading to Wednesday’s release of a year-long appropriations package.  

LIHEAP has proven to be one of the most effective safety net programs, successfully leveraging investments from all stakeholders in keeping families safe and healthy.  Despite this, President Trump repeatedly has tried to eliminate funding for the program. 

Led by Leahy, the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the Trump proposal to eliminate the program during the Committee’s consideration of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Bill in September.  That bill was the basis for negotiations on this Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

Source: WASHINGTON (Wednesday, March 21, 2018) -- Leahy