BURLINGTON, Vt., March 27 – In one of the largest single grants to the state to help after Tropical Strom Irene, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Governor Peter Shumlin Wednesday announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is releasing $17,932,000 in community rebuilding funds to Vermont from a disaster relief appropriations bill passed by Congress and signed by the President in January. Leahy, Sanders and Welch supported the disaster relief measure and wrote a letter to HUD advocating for the funding.
Altogether, Vermont now has received more than $430 million in federal assistance to help the state rebuild after Irene.
HUD is allocating the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery grants to areas in nine states, totaling $514 million, with the greatest unmet needs. The funding announced Wednesday supplements nearly $22 million HUD allocated to Vermont under the same program in January of 2012. HUD has targeted these grants to help communities rebuild homes, businesses and infrastructure beyond those addressed by other forms of public and private assistance. HUD soon will publish specific guidelines for using these funds, and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development will finalize disaster ‘action plans’ describing how they intend to use the funding to support disaster recovery. Leahy, Sanders and Welch said HUD has pledged prompt reviews of those plans.
Two features of the CDBG program make these funds especially useful: The program’s flexibility enables the state to forge a Vermont-specific plan and allows the state to use the funds to match other federal disaster recovery programs, including FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. As an example, the state used part of January 2012 grant to make matching grants to homeowners participating in the FEMA home buyout program whose homes were destroyed by Irene. Without those grants, the homeowners would not have been fully and fairly compensated for their homes, as FEMA only pays 75 percent of appraised value.
In a joint statement, Leahy, Sanders and Welch said: “This is another major building block in Vermont’s recovery. These are funds for made-in-Vermont answers for specific community needs. It was a high priority for us to work to top-up funding for this crucial program in the emergency storm relief bill in January, and we thank Secretary Donovan for his prompt turnaround in allocating these funds to Vermont and to other states where the needs are greatest.”
Governor Shumlin said: "This announcement means more tools are on the way as Vermonters and their communities continue to rebuild from Tropical Storm Irene. The persistence and hard work of our congressional delegation has brought us this good news from Washington and we are grateful. As we learn more about the details of the funding, we'll move quickly to match it to the needs we know remain."
As the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and of its HUD subcommittee, Leahy again led on the committee in ensuring that the disaster assistance funds were included in the appropriations package in January. Leahy, Sanders and Welch then wrote to HUD officials underscoring Vermont’s ongoing needs and asking for timely release of the funds.