Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy met with community advocates and the leader of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity on Monday to discuss the implications of proposed cuts in the federal budget that would eliminate three programs that aid low-income Vermonters.
Under the federal budget proposed by President Trump, the Community Service Block Grant Program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program would be eliminated.
The Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, or CVOEO, serves more than 23,000 Vermonters. Standing in front of pallets of insulating materials at its weatherization warehouse, Executive Director Jan Demers explained how the cuts would affect just her agency. “It zeroes out the Community Service Block Grant. And this grant is the foundational grant that undergirds the majority of our programs. It zeros out the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP. It zeros out the Department of Energy’s weatherization program. But on top of that there are cuts to Head Start, to Fair Housing, to housing assistance, to mobile home and Voices Against Violence. There isn’t a CVOEO program that isn’t decimated by this budget. This budget is like one amputation after another.”
“Your quote ‘one amputation after another’, I guarantee you you’re going to hear it on the floor of the United States Senate.” Democrat Leahy chastised President Trump’s proposed cuts to community service programs. “Last week President Trump proposed in his FY ’18 budget the elimination of the Community Service Block Grant, the LIHEAP and weatherization programs. Now in my earlier notes I said what I thought of that and my staff pointed out maybe you ought to just say it’s appallingly unbalanced, out of touch and short sighted. Well, yeah. It’s untouched with reality.”
Referencing the president’s call to make America great again, Leahy says the nation can’t be good or great if funding for the vulnerable is removed. “I’m going to call on the Senate to show some compassion. You know I don’t begrudge anybody who has a lot of money. The people who are very wealthy are going to be able to take care of themselves. I worry about the people who aren’t. And I worry about America if we try to make our decisions based on somebody’s Twitter account instead of basing it on reality. People are worried. They are frightened. You know they want to spend $25 billion to build a wall. Well let’s build roofs over peoples’ heads. Wouldn’t that be better?”
Disabled veteran Todd Alexander from Milton stepped up to note how much the programs have helped him and others in the state. “This program has helped me out tremendously over the past five years with my disability. The furnace repairs. I’ve been on the list for probably three years for weatherization. This would be a devastating cut. You’re not just harming the disabled and the elderly but everybody in the just above minimum wage working class that really benefit from the Share Liheat and they really need it. And anybody that doesn’t know about the wind chills in Vermont, really don’t have an idea down in Washington as far as I’m concerned. So to have this cut would be devastating.”
There are five community action agencies across Vermont including the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
Patrick Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator and the vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.