Balint visits Barre for town hall
BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) - Agriculture and housing were top of the agenda Wednesday as Congresswoman Becca Balint hosted her first town hall in Barre.
Local food production and affordable housing stock dominated the central Vermont visit. When it comes to Vermont agriculture, Balint says the Farm Bill that’s on the table every five years is one of her main priorities right now.
”From our trees to your table, it’s a really short journey,” said Marilyn Lambert with Silloway Maple Farm in Randolph, one of the farms Balint visited Wednesday. She says syrup from Canada is cheaper and less regulated than in Vermont.
“Oftentimes, people -- bulk sellers, and retailers, wholesalers actually -- combined Canadian syrup with maple syrup from Vermont, and they don’t necessarily have to say that.”
Balint said her goal was to learn about the biggest challenges local food producers are facing. In Silloway’s case, it’s competing with out-of-state suppliers. She says she’s using what she’s learned to help craft the 2023 Farm Bill. “So many people used us during the pandemic for local food when the supply chain broke down around the world,” Balint said. Now that supply chains are back up, she says smaller farms are struggling. And while there is grant funding and programs to help, they often aren’t easily accessible. “If we don’t structure the program so it works in a way family farms could fill out the paperwork, then it is of no use to them.”
Balint says she also wants to help Vermonters help local farms by making sure SNAP benefits remain in the farm bill. “We have a lot of food insecurity right now in Vermont and making sure that that is protected in the Farm Bill is going to be a real strong focus of mine,” she said.
As for the folks at Silloway, they’ll keep producing quality and sustainable syrup as long as they can. “You’re not getting your sugar, cane sugar processed from Florida or across the ocean, you’re getting your sweetener from native Vermont, you know, maple trees,” Lambert said.
Rep. Balint also hosted her first town hall as a sworn-in congresswoman Wednesday. She tells Channel Three she chose housing because it’s at the center of almost all problems facing Vermont right now.
Balint says the infrastructure bill has some federal dollars that will be making their way to the Green Mountain State, as well as rental assistance programs.
She also mentioned a need to look at housing from a different perspective by including more apartment units across the state or multi-generational housing. To do that, she recommended municipalities consider zoning changes, especially in downtown areas. “We have got to come to terms with we can build affordable housing and we can protect land-- the Vermont conservation board has been doing that for years.” Balint said.
Public comments at Wednesday’s meeting included concerns about landlord protections, the end of pandemic-era programs, and housing for those with intellectual disabilities.
Balint says she’s concerned there are 2,800 open jobs in Vermont, with only about 1,400 available housing units.
She also talked about her role on the House Oversight Committee, collaborating with other legislators, and her thoughts on Biden’s budget.
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