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Vermont Congressman Peter Welch Discusses Northeast Kingdom Recovery Plan

U.S. Representative Peter Welch
Pat Bradley
Congressman Peter Welch (file photo)

Vermont Congressman Peter Welch recently met virtually with leaders from the state’s Northeast Kingdom to discuss a recovery plan for that region.
The Northeast Kingdom is Vermont’s least populous and least densely populated region. It is bordered to the north by Canada and the east by New Hampshire and includes Essex, Caledonia and Orleans counties.

Democrat-at-large Peter Welch kicked off a virtual meeting of the Northeast Kingdom Collaborative explaining his hopes in a new Congressional relief package and praising the updated regional Recovery Plan.  “This aid package hopefully will include as it did in the CARES Package some state and local money where there’s some significant discretion in Montpelier for the allocation of resources. And the fact that you are all working together for the focus on the Northeast Kingdom needs, and I saw your elements you know broadband, housing, education, small business and community vitality really really makes sense to me.”

Northeast Kingdom Collaborative formed a task force last year to create a pandemic recovery plan that was originally published in June.  In the fall the panel updated it with new strategies. NEK Community Broadband Chair Evan Carlson explained why getting broadband to all of the Kingdom’s residents is the first goal of the plan.  “We have 48 percent of our addresses that can’t access what the FCC defines as high speed internet. And there is another population here that also can’t necessarily afford service even though they might have a reliable solution right outside their front door. One of the things that I think is super important to recognize is that if we want a swift recovery, economic recovery, in the coming years and a sustainable economy in the future we have to solve this problem. We can’t take any more shortcuts. No more flashy short term solutions. We need to really focus on the reliable and near future proof solutions that are available.”

The plan also includes a proposal to create a housing commission.  Rural Edge is an affordable housing and community development non-profit.  Executive Director Patrick Shattuck reports their current vacancy rate is less than 2 percent.  “For our portfolio for a one bedroom subsidized rental unit our waiting list is in excess of three years. That is a waiting list that was updated as recently as December of 2020. So people are waiting three years to get an apartment. On the home ownership side there’s equally great pressure.”

The Northeast Kingdom Recovery Plan also includes increasing child care assistance and enhancing funding for education programs including the Vermont State colleges. It also proposes a network of recovery experts to provide direct financial assistance to small businesses.


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