WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today released the following opening statement at a hearing titled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” Live video of the hearing is available here.
I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order.????
Welcome Secretary Vilsack. Thank you for being here today. Your leadership, and the work of the nearly 100,000 dedicated public servants at USDA, is invaluable to American farmers, rural communities, and our food systems that support millions of families.? The Department’s continued partnership with Congress will be essential to this Committee as we work to complete a bipartisan Farm Bill.???
I have always said that the Farm Bill is a jobs bill. That is especially true for the 46 million people who live in rural America. Since the last Farm Bill, we have made historic investments to address the unique challenges faced by these communities across the country.?
New funding for programs like ReConnect is improving rural America’s access to affordable, high-speed Internet, creating new opportunities to connect people to jobs, education, and health care. Historic investments in affordable clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades are working to lower costs and create new, good paying jobs in these communities.????
We have also made progress to address the climate crisis by providing historic investments in longstanding, voluntary, and flexible Farm Bill conservation programs. For years, these popular, bipartisan programs have been oversubscribed and underfunded. New funding for programs like EQIP and RCPP is allowing us to finally address this backlog of initiatives and strengthen these programs.???
We also know that our farmers are facing traditional and novel challenges. While USDA projects net farm income will remain above the 20-year average and many commodity prices are at historic highs, so too are land, fertilizer, and other input costs. This is making it challenging for our producers to maintain their operations.??
Since the last Farm Bill, farmers received $70 billion in assistance outside of Farm Bill programs, including over $13 billion in response to weather and climate disasters that have devastated crops, forests, and livestock. This is why I will continue to fight to expand and strengthen crop insurance and the Farm Bill disaster assistance programs for all farmers.?
The future of our food systems rely on the investments we make today.
The 2018 Farm Bill included strong investments in agriculture research, which helps our farmers develop the tools they need in the face of the climate crisis and other emerging challenges. These investments, as well as Farm Bill programs that support the next generation of farmers and agriculture professionals, are critical to the long-term success of American agriculture.?
We must also ensure that the Farm Bill continues to support the nutrition programs that serve as a lifeline to millions of people and families across this country.? The SNAP program provides food assistance for more than 41 million Americans, including children, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.?
The bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill directed a long overdue re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan, which had not been done since 1975 – almost 50 years.? This update resulted in a modest increase to the average SNAP benefit of less than $2 a day – an increase estimated to lift 2.4 million people, including 1 million children, out of poverty.???
Spending on nutrition programs does not rob resources from other Farm Bill programs, just as crop insurance doesn’t rob resources from other programs when disaster strikes and spending goes up.?
But threats we are hearing from some in the House in favor of reckless and indiscriminate mandatory budget cuts will result in cuts to all Farm Bill programs.? We cannot go backward at a time when our farmers and families need us most.??
Turning to our national forests, I was pleased that Congress provided additional tools to the Forest Service in the 2018 Farm Bill.? We provided for expedited treatment of forests impacted by insects and disease, built on the successful Good Neighbor Authority to create efficient partnerships between state and Federal foresters, and established competitive programs to fund source water protection and landscape scale restoration projects.? All of these tools support the health and growth of our forests.?
Only with the backing of a broad and bipartisan coalition of supporters – and broad, bipartisan support in Congress – can we craft a bipartisan Farm Bill that delivers for the American people.? This is how we accomplish our shared goal of a strong agriculture economy that supports communities across the country – by providing these communities with the tools that they need to thrive.????
Secretary Vilsack, your leadership and partnership will be essential to our Committee in the coming months.??
With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he would like to make.??