During Congress’ two-week Easter recess, Vermont’s lone House representative plans to travel across the state to hear what residents believe the impact of President Trump’s proposed budget will be. On Tuesday, Democrat Peter Welch stopped at a food shelf in St. Albans to discuss how the potential cuts could impact the service and other safety net programs.
Northwest Family Foods is a food shelf operated by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. Congressman Peter Welch walked into the storage area packed with canned goods, breads and pastas and coolers to decry potential budget cuts that could strip funding that supports such programs. "My view is that we in Washington have a responsibility to implement policies and budgets that make it more possible for people back home to be success in doing the work they’re doing. The hard work and the really important work is being done here. So if the communities are going to be strong in the face of a lot of challenges - education attainment, the opioid epidemic, the health care needs of people – then they’ve got to have a partnership relationship with Washington where we can bring some of your tax dollars back to your community. So this Trump budget is a bad budget."
Franklin-Grand Isle Community Action Director Robert Ostermeyer runs the St. Albans food shelf. "Every year that door opens 12,000 times. Need in this county is not deep but it’s fairly broad. Our programs prevent catastrophic collapse and the consequent social and economic costs of those kind of collapse time and time again. This food shelf feeds in the course of a year one in ten people in the county. These programs are essential to the health of the county. I will say this to Mr. Trump: If you would be so kind as not to spend the money to go down to Mar-A-Lago some weekend I could run this office for five years. And I suggest that you stay in the White House and start studying your job. Because if you really understood it you would understand how vital these programs are to America."
Volunteer Donny Conn says this facility provides more than just food and helps people get back on their feet. He told Congressman Welch he is frustrated with the White House’s priorities. "Right now President Trump is in Key Largo or whatever, wherever he is. We’re paying security down there. We’re paying security on Trump Tower. We’ve got security back at the White House. My God one day we’re funded! But he’d rather go out on his golf course and putt balls around. He doesn’t care about the people that are struggling."
Kendrick Brown is a part-time employee of the food shelf. "Since I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of people coming in and out of here. And what hurts me the most is having veterans that come in here asking for food. You know that gets under my skin a little bit that somebody that’s gone over and sacrificed everything to fight for this country and then have to come in here to get food because they can’t get help. All this we need to have it."
The cuts proposed in President Trump’s budget would zero out the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity’s community service block grant, LIHEAP and weatherization grant programs. It also cuts funding to Head Start, Fair Housing, housing and mobile home assistance and Voices Against Violence. The community action agency services 23,000 people in its service area.