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Sanders, Welch, Balint announce $75 million in earmarks for Vermont

Mar 18, 2024

“This is Vermont taxpayer dollars coming back to Vermont,” said U.S. Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Three side by side photos of politicians.
From left: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Becca Balint and Sen. Peter Welch. Photos by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — Vermont’s congressional delegation drew down about $75 million in earmarks for projects across the state from the first round of 2024 federal spending bills signed by President Joe Biden earlier this month, they announced on Monday.

The earmarks — known more formally by the term “congressionally directed spending” — are set to support some 60 projects from Burlington to Bennington and St. Johnsbury to Townshend. The funding allocations were included in six of the 12 appropriations bills that Congress needs to pass by the end of the week to avert a government shutdown. 

The delegation would have additional earmarks to announce once the remaining six bills passed, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said at a Monday afternoon press conference at his Burlington office. U.S. Sen Peter Welch, D-Vt., was also in attendance, though U.S. Rep. Becca Balint, D-Vt., could not make it, a representative from her office said.

“This is Vermont taxpayer dollars coming back to Vermont,” Welch said. “It’s really tough on our property tax payers right now … school budgets are going up. And to the extent that we can help — Bernie, Becca and I — by bringing some resources back to communities to do projects that are really essential, we think that is really, really important.”

Sanders’ earmarks include $2.5 million for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to support manufactured housing communities statewide and another $2.5 million for the Washington Electric Cooperative to purchase and install thousands of new, more advanced electrical meters. 

Sanders’ haul also includes $2.3 million for the town of Rochester to repurpose its old high school building into a community center, as well as $1.9 million for the Vermont Department of Public Safety to modernize training for law enforcement officers. 

Welch, meanwhile, successfully earmarked $5 million for the Champlain Housing Trust to build 68 “permanently affordable” apartments and 26 shared-equity condominiums in Shelburne, and another $5 million for the Bennington County Industrial Corp. to help build 63 new apartments and two medical facilities in downtown Bennington.

Welch’s package also includes $2.2 million for the town of Waterbury to extend a water line to the East Wind Mobile Home Park, plus $1 million for a Springfield Regional Development Corp. “business incubator” at the Park Street School in Springfield. 

For her part, Balint earmarked an additional $1 million for the Champlain Housing Trust project in Shelburne, as well as $1.5 million for a primary and mental health care facility at Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital in Townshend. Her office also secured $1.1 million to support a Northeast Kingdom Community Action project in St. Johnsbury focused on family health and economic empowerment. 

In response to a reporter’s question, Sanders and Welch said they were confident that lawmakers would avoid a shutdown by the end of the week.

The slate of government funding bills passed earlier this month support the federal departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Veterans Affairs, Energy, Interior, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, according to the legislation, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and military construction programs. 

But funding for other departments and agencies — including Homeland Security, Defense, State, Treasury, Health and Human Services, Education and Labor — is yet to be approved, with Homeland Security proving to be a sticking point, CNN reported.

Members of Congress can request earmarks for home-state projects in each federal appropriations bill. Both of Vermont’s senators praised the process in comments to reporters Monday, with Sanders adding that he wishes lawmakers were allowed to draw down significantly more than they are now.

Vermont benefitted for years from funding earmarked by former Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and was a leading voice in bringing the practice back in 2021 after it had been banned for a decade.

Leahy alone directed more than $212 million to projects in Vermont for the 2023 fiscal year, his final at the helm of the committee. It saw the state bring in the second-highest value of earmarks per capita of any state in the country. Given that the 2024 appropriations process remains ongoing, it’s not yet possible to say how Vermont has fared since Leahy’s retirement.

Other large projects supported by the earmark funding announced Monday include:

  • Sanders: $2.5 million for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to expand affordable, shared equity homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income Vermonters statewide
  • Sanders: $550,000 for the Lamoille Housing Partnership to convert a building on the Vermont State University campus in Johnson into 20-plus units of affordable senior housing and an onsite health clinic
  • Sanders and Welch: $4.75 million for the Vermont National Guard to build a “soldier readiness center” and complete other minor construction
  • Welch: $3 million for a state Agency of Transportation operations facility serving Central Vermont
  • Balint: $1 million to support the redevelopment of the vacant Bennington High School building into housing and space for community services
  • Sanders, Welch and Balint: $1.2 million for a stormwater treatment system at the site of the planned new Burlington High School and Burlington Technical Center 

Story Written by Shaun Robinson, VTDigger

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