1.24.2014 – Budget Adjustment, Substance Abuse, and the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative
This week, we worked on the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA). Every year, the Appropriations Committee reviews the needs of the various agencies and departments of state government. In some cases, there are additional needs, in others, they are right on track. When there is additional need, if possible, adjustments are made to accommodate them.
In his State of the State Address, Governor Shumlin talked predominantly about the opiate/heroin epidemic and asked for additional funds to relieve pressure on the treatment waiting list. The BAA adds $200,000 for opiate treatment and $175,000 for recovery centers. Also included is $1.87 million to meet the budget gap at the Veteran’s Home. Of local interest is $500,000 in spending authority for Windham County economic development grants related to the planned decommissioning of Entergy. We are very fortunate to have Rep. Ann Manwaring of Wilmington on the Appropriations Committee!
Money is also allocated for rent obligations for two state agencies (Natural Resources and Human Services) as the result of Tropical Storm Irene. This was being paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but will end as of this month. BAA also increases support for emergency housing by $2.5 million and winter road maintenance by $1.375 million.
I had the opportunity to watch The Hungry Heart, a documentary made by Bess O’Brien about the tragedy of substance abuse and addiction filmed in the northwestern corner of Vermont. It focuses on the medical practice of, now retired, pediatrician, Fred Holmes, as he works with children from every walk of life in their struggle with the scourge of drug addiction.
What is important to remember is that opiates rapidly change the brain chemistry making it extremely difficult to recover. That’s why it is so important to prevent the abuse from happening in the first place. Because it is already a huge problem, we must make treatment more readily available by assuring rapid access to screenings and services that deal with the underlying problems such as lack of education, learning disabilities, and mental/physical health issues. This is another example of how a good education can save money in the long run. Gov. Shumlin should also be applauded for shining a brighter light on this terrible problem.
I highly recommend this movie to everyone, especially parents, teenagers, and young adults. It is not easy to watch and there is a little rough language, but it is so important to gain an understanding of this problem. The most inspiring part of the evening was at the conclusion when some of the young people who were in the film talked with us about how their recovery was going.
One young woman who had overdosed and suffered brain damage as a result talked about her ongoing struggles with alcohol abuse. The mother of a young woman who died of an overdose talked of her incredible grief at the loss of her daughter. A heart-warming moment revealed that the two of them had “adopted” one another.
We received an exciting report on the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative. Created with legislation passed in 2012, the first round of enterprise investment, service provider, and capital and infrastructure investment grants have been made and are bearing fruit. Working with $1.037 million, 25 agriculture and 12 forestry projects were funded in every county in the state. The total money requested in grant applications amounted to $12 million, twelve times the funds available. It is my hope that we are able to find a revenue source to better fund this economic development/job creation effort.
One of the exciting stories came from Joe Buley who makes delicious soups at Screamin’ Ridge Farm in Montpelier. With his grant money, he purchased an electric peeler which has speeded up his production significantly. He is now sourcing ingredients from 20 other producers. Last year, his gross receipts were up by 15% – this year, he anticipates a 50% increase! Because of this expansion, 6-7 new jobs have been created. He is working with Black River Produce so that, hopefully, his soups will be available to us in the southern part of the state.
More locally, Sidehill Farm in Brattleboro received a grant for equipment and frozen storage capacity in order to expand their product line. The UVM Extension Service in Brattleboro received a service provider grant to be used to increase the supply and quality of local vegetable storage. Black River Meats in North Springfield received a capital and infrastructure investment grant to build volume and value for Vermont livestock producers in new markets.
We were delighted to have Congressman Peter Welch visit our committee to report on the progress of the federal Farm Bill reauthorization. We are particularly interested in the Dairy Stabilization Plan and the nutrition programs but other elements include disaster insurance for vegetable growers, support for efficiency measures in the maple industry, and support for the growth of organic food. We really appreciate the work Peter does for us in Washington, DC!