Home News and Features $111 Million in Federal Earmarks for Vermont Announced Several Local Towns...

$111 Million in Federal Earmarks for Vermont Announced
Several Local Towns Win Funds, But Not Montpelier

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Now that Congress has passed appropriation bills for federal fiscal year 2024, which began Oct. 1, 2023, the earmark haul from Vermont’s Congressional delegation has come into focus: nonprofits and local governments in the state will receive $111.2 million for about 90 projects.

In the central Vermont region, the largest earmark will go to Washington Electric Co-op (WEC), which will receive $2.5 million from Sen. Bernie Sanders for advanced electric meters at its 11,800 metering locations. The town of Berlin will receive two earmarks: $1.6 million for walk and bike infrastructure for the new Berlin Town Center from Sanders, and $865,000 to replace a pump station from Sen. Peter Welch.

Sanders also obtained $1.125 million for a new building for the Woodbury Volunteer Fire Department and $525,000 for construction of a concrete wall to mitigate the risk of failure of the Curtis Pond dam in Calais.

Montpelier applied for but did not win any earmarks, although its request to Sanders for $4.5 million for district heat expansion came close. City Manager Bill Fraser said the request was approved by the relevant appropriations committee, but it required a 50% match from the city, money the city does not have on hand.

Applications for the next round of earmarks, for FY2025, are due April 8. Fraser said he will be discussing earmark applications with the Montpelier City Council on April 3.

Barre did not receive any direct funding this year, but the Turning Point Center in Barre, a substance use recovery center, obtained $400,000 from Rep. Becca Balint for a project including restoration of a historic building in downtown Barre. Last year, Barre scored big with Sanders’ help, securing $3.45 million for upgrades to the Barre Municipal Auditorium heating and ventilation systems and $2.24 million for a drinking water transmission line from Dix Reservoir to Barre.

Earmarks — officially known as “congressionally directed spending” — are funds that senators and members of the house can request from congressional appropriations committees for projects in their home states that qualify for federal grant programs. In Vermont, hundreds of applications are submitted to congressional offices and only some are forwarded to the appropriations committees, which then have to approve them.

The practice was dropped for more than a decade after controversy arose over projects such as the $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, but earmarks were revived by Sen. Patrick Leahy in fiscal year 2022. Montpelier has not received any earmarks since the revival of the practice, although Fraser recalled that many years ago, the city received a $7 million earmark from Leahy and Sen. Jim Jeffords for the transit center and bike path.

For FY2024, Sanders delivered $58 million in earmarks, Welch brought in $42.3 million, and Balint secured $10.9 million in funding. By comparison, in his final year in the Senate, Leahy — who was chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee — obtained more than $212 million in FY2023 federal funds for Vermont. That year Vermont had the second-highest value of earmarks per capita of any state in the country. 

Other central Vermont projects funded in FY2024 by Sanders include $151,000 for an expansion of the Northfield Senior Center, $750,000 to Downstreet Housing to create rental homes with services for persons with disabilities and special needs, and $245,000 to construct a modern emergency operations center in Stowe.

Welch and Balint jointly funded $250,000 for the Norwich University Applied Research Institute in Northfield to partner with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for security improvements to computer architecture.

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