Senator Patrick Leahy, Monday evening, announced key Vermont highlights of the bipartisan agreement to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2021, which includes the COVID relief package to provide relief to the thousands of Vermonters suffering during the unprecedented health and economic crisis.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy was front and center when it came to policy making of the new stinumous package- and here are several key priorities for Vermont in the fiscal year 2021 spending package. 

The overall bill – which includes the 12 annual Appropriations bills that fund the federal government – totals more than $2.3 trillion in funding for programs across the federal government and efforts to combat the pandemic and provide relief to the American people.

“The Omnibus Appropriations Bill is the product of hard work and compromise, and Vermonters can be proud of what is in this package.” Leahy said, “From expanding broadband access and stimulating economic development and job creation, to investing in our great Lake Champlain and Vermont’s dairy industry, to providing help for those who continue grappling with the struggling with the scourge of opioids, it will provide desperately needed relief to Vermonters and invests in our communities.  In terms of COVID relief, the direct payments included in this package are a fraction of what they should be after months of obstruction and delay by Republican leadership, but it is a start, and I will continue to fight for the help that Vermonters need and deserve.”

The agreement includes significant investments across the Green Mountain State in education and early childhood programs, substance abuse and mental health services, food and nutrition programs, and increases for housing and homeless services to help those who are the most vulnerable. 

The relief package to address the ongoing pandemic includes extensions of pandemic unemployment programs through March, direct payments to qualifying individuals and families of $600, and makes critical investments in education, transit and the nation’s health systems. 

It invests $325 billion in small businesses, including allowing many small businesses to access a second draw from the popular Payroll Protection Program.  The package also provides billions of dollars to support vaccine production and distribution, as well as contact tracing.  It also makes investments in broadband expansion.  It provides billions for schools so that when kids and teachers return to school they can do it safely. 

A full summary of the Fiscal Year 2021 Omnibus Appropriations Bill is available HERE.

Vermont Highlights Of The Omnibus Appropriations Package

Broadband:  Nearly 20 percent of Vermont households lack access to modern broadband connection speeds.  Broadband access can grow rural economies and connect our communities.  The coronavirus pandemic has brought to light major gaps in access, from sustaining and building small businesses to allowing citizens their day in court.  Leahy secured new language in the bill to allow Vermont communities that were not previously eligible to apply for ReConnect loans and grants.  The bill includes $635 million for the ReConnect program to expand access to high-speed broadband to unserved and under-served rural areas.  This is especially important as our country faces an unprecedented health and economic crisis when many families rely on broadband for work, school, and access to justice.

Lake Champlain:  Lake Champlain is the crown jewel of Vermont’s rich environmental treasures.  It has world-class warm and cold water fisheries and spectacular scenery provides drinking water for more than 200,000 people, and is the economic engine that drives the region.  Since becoming Vice Chairman, Leahy has increased funding for the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain by 241 percent.  The bill includes $15 million for these programs, which is $1.5 million more than fiscal year 2020.  

Food Systems Center:  Leahy worked closely with the University of Vermont to establish a Food Systems Center in collaboration with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Centers to research how local, regional, and global food systems can provide nutritious and culturally appropriate food, regardless of individual life circumstances. 

The bill includes $11 million for this Center, which is a $6 million increase over fiscal year 2020. 

Dairy Business Innovation Center:  Vermont hosts one of three dairy innovation centers that Leahy helped to establish in the 2018 Farm Bill.  Vermont’s center provides technical and financial assistance that helps dairy producers diversify their products, demonstrate innovative on-farm production practices, and adapt to emerging market trends with the overall goal of improving dairy farm viability. 

The Dairy Business Innovation Initiative is funded at $22 million, which is a $2 million increase over fiscal year 2020.

Farm to School: The Farm to School grant program was authored by Leahy in the 2010 Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act and modeled after Vermont’s successful farm to school program.  The bill includes $12 million for the program, which has now reached more than 33,000 schools across the country. 

This is a $3 million increase over fiscal year 2020.  These grants will help Vermont farms increase their sales to local schools and promote lifelong healthy eating habits among Vermont’s students.

Rural Centers of Excellence On Substance Use Disorders:  Rural areas like those in Vermont face unique challenges in confronting addiction, including a higher rate of lethal overdoses.  In 2019, Leahy authored language in the Labor-HHS Appropriations Act to establish three Rural Centers of Excellence on Substance Use Disorders, including the center hosted by the University of Vermont and the University of Vermont Medical Center.  The center supports Hub and Spoke, Community Reinforcement Approach, technical assistance, education and outreach, and other evidence-based methods to address the opioid epidemic in rural communities. 

The bill includes $10 million for the centers. 

Noise Abatement:  The bill includes new funds to help mitigate noise caused by military aircraft and language secured by Leahy to ensure that the communities surrounding Burlington International Airport have access to these funds. 

The bill includes $50 million for the program. 

Innovation – eVTOL:  Electric Vertical Take-off and Landing (eVTOL) technology is an expanding field with the potential to provide inexpensive and efficient transportation. 

The bill includes $25 million in new funding to support the Air Force Agility Prime innovative acquisition program in developing this new technology, which companies like Burlington’s BETA Technologies can access.