The $2.25 million in federal grants for a series of development projects for the economically challenged area along the U.S.-Canadian border in northern Vermont could be the last unless Congress funds next year's program over the objection of the Trump Administration.
The Vermont grants announced Thursday by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republican Gov. Phil Scott will help fund 10 programs, ranging from $46,000 so the Vermont Brewers Association can bring out-of-state tourists to the state's breweries, to $425,000 to help build sidewalks and support recreation trails in St. Johnsbury.
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"These grants aim to help our forest-based economies, our emerging agricultural entrepreneurs, and the communities they depend upon to make investments in themselves," Scott said Thursday.
Officials in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and upstate New York say the Northern Border program has helped create and save hundreds of jobs since it was created almost a decade ago by using relatively small amount of money to generate other investments while encouraging developments in traditionally underserved areas.
The Trump Administration proposed eliminating funding for the commission, but the organization's supporters have sprung to its defense.
The U.S. House has passed a bill that would cut 2018 funding for the Northern Border Commission in half from its 2017 funding of $10 million to $5 million. A separate proposal in the Senate, which has not yet been acted upon, would increase funding for the commission to $15 million.
Leahy said he and his colleagues in the Senate are pushing back against what he calls the White House's "anti-rural agenda" that ignores the needs and conditions in rural communities.
"For now, the Senate is largely ignoring his calls for these slashing cuts to these rural economic development initiatives," Leahy said.
New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster, who announced last week $2.2 million in funding for 13 projects in her state, said the commission supports critical infrastructure and economic development projects. The New Hampshire projects range from a septic wastewater treatment station in Whitefield to parking in Lancaster.
"Efforts to cut funding for this program are severely misguided and hurt communities that can least afford it," Kuster said.
The commission includes 36 counties in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and upstate New York. It was created by Congress in 2008 based on the model of the Appalachian Regional Commission. It was first funded in 2010.
Statistics show that between 2010 and 2016, the Commission has contributed $21.1 million for 119 projects across the four states, creating 137 new jobs and retaining 307.
The Concord, New Hampshire, based Northern Forest Center is getting $162,500 from the grants that were announced Thursday in Vermont. The Center supports forest products businesses across the region, including Appalachian Engineered Flooring, in North Troy, Vermont.
Appalachian Flooring General Manager Jennifer Fraser said Thursday that The Northern Border Commission helped fund services her business received through the Forest Center.
The business, which first opened in 2012, employed about a dozen people during a difficult startup period in 2014, when it got help with business practices and employee development. It now employs 25 and is doing business across the country, Fraser said.
The advice made all the difference.
"I'm not 100 percent sure whether we'd still be here, (without the help) to be quite frank," Fraser said.