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News Vermont governor focuses on rural infrastructure aid as he resumes weekly briefing

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has resumed weekly briefings. As the Legislature begins a new biennium, he and members of his administration today focused on a proposal to help rural communities.

Scott asked for a $3 million rural infrastructure assistance program to be included in the budget adjustment bill. The Republican said the funds will help small communities access and manage grants and funds from the federal American Rescue Package Act, or ARPA.

“It’s clear that towns and villages in Vermont want to take advantage of the state and federal funds allocated last year. Because many of these towns have small selection committees with part-time staff, they often rely on community volunteers to identify priorities, submit applications , and if they succeed, they try to manage these projects and provide all the reporting that comes with them. They simply don’t have the capacity to handle them like Burlington, Rutland or Montpellier, they have full time staff, usually Responsible for applying for and administering grant funding.”

Douglas Farnham, deputy secretary-general of the Administration, said the rural infrastructure assistance package had been brought up in the budget reshuffle because of the “high urgency” they couldn’t wait until the end of the session to pass the general budget bill.

“We only have until the end of next year to fund the full $1.05 billion in ARPA state fiscal recovery. At this point, we estimate that over $400 million of that $1 billion has already been committed. The mid-year authorized projects are all underway and they’re moving forward. We want to make sure that small towns have ample opportunity to participate in these projects.”

Farnham acknowledged that the program is not really new, but a way to provide technical assistance to the communities that need it most.

“We know from conversations in multiple counties that these towns have high barriers to participation. They need it easily. Types of projects eligible: Water quality infrastructure, housing development, community restoration, workforce development and business support, climate change Mitigation. Not every project can fully meet these criteria.”

Governor Scott was asked some questions about the activities of the Legislature. The House Judiciary Committee will testify Wednesday and Thursday on H.89, a proposed law that would protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state lawsuits. Scott said he wasn’t familiar with the specifics, but supported the concept.

“We want to protect anyone providing services in Vermont. But I don’t know what that piece of legislation would entail. I mean I don’t really have a problem with that.”

Scott also voiced support for the legalization of sports betting during the session.

“We’ve been looking at it for a long time. Like marijuana use, it’s been around for a long time. The reality is most of the states around us are doing something, and we just have to find a way forward so we can Provide the necessary protections to make it viable.”

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