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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at the Hearing on Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following statement at a hearing titled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” Live video of the hearing is available here.

Stabenow’s Statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Welcome, Secretary Vilsack. Thank you for being here today. Your leadership is essential to our shared goal of keeping farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong.

I share the concerns of my colleagues that after recent years of record farm income, new trends show that farming continues to be one of the riskiest businesses there is. This makes abundantly clear what I have been saying for months: it’s time to come together on a bipartisan Farm Bill that supports all farmers – both big and small – and helps rural communities thrive. A Farm Bill is always the art of the possible. How do we reach bipartisan solutions to the challenges American farmers, families, and rural communities face? That requires creative thinking, and I appreciate your willingness and the Department’s willingness to work with us to find creative solutions. Together, we have already made significant progress.

In October, with your leadership, we secured $2.3 billion from the Commodity Credit Corporation that will double funding for trade promotion programs over the next 5 years and ramp up the donation of American grown food to address a growing crisis of hunger around the world. Also, in the lead up to the Farm Bill a year ago, we came together on a bipartisan basis to secure $350 million in additional funding to support the rice and cotton industries in the appropriations process.

And in November, we secured a bipartisan extension of the Farm Bill that fully funded all of the programs that do not have 10-year baseline funding. We call them “orphan” programs. All of these actions show what is possible when we work together. I’m very pleased to have secured a commitment from our Majority Leader to invest several billions of dollars in new resources into the 2024 Farm Bill to support our efforts to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers. This is no small accomplishment when we remember that previous Leadership told our Committee to cut more than $20 billion from the 2014 Farm Bill.

We need to use all the tools in our toolbox, and even craft some new ones, to help improve the safety net for farmers. That of course starts with crop insurance as the foundation of the farm safety net because it has the ability to reach nearly all producers with timely, targeted assistance. For some disasters, we also need additional help. Unfortunately, ad hoc emergency assistance can be delayed and inconsistent. In some years, 75% or more of losses are covered, and in other years it can be as little as 25%, and it is still uncertain if anything will be available for 2023 disasters.

The Farm Bill could be an opportunity to add more certainty, reliability, and fairness. The Farm Bill is also an investment in American families, workers, and rural communities. SNAP is the foundation of the safety net for American families who need just a little help to make ends meet. The bipartisan evaluation of SNAP that we directed in the 2018 Farm Bill after 50 years of the program, resulted in just an additional $1.40 per day per person, bringing benefits to about $6 per day, to help folks put food on the table.

But this was enough to lift 1 million children out of poverty. That is 1 million children who will now have the support they need to become happy, healthy, and productive members of their communities. This is a bipartisan achievement that we should all be proud of. In the last Congress, we also made a historic investment in conservation, rural development, and energy to address the climate crisis, which is hitting farmers’ bottom lines across the country. That is now being put to work on farms and in fields across the country. As I said earlier, the Farm Bill is the art of the possible. It is where we can reach bipartisan solutions that help keep farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong. We can invest in rural hospitals and childcare.

Last year alone, more than 5 million rural Americans benefitted from this Administration’s investments in rural health care through USDA programs, and USDA was the first agency to get high-speed internet funding into rural communities through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We can continue to build on the improvements we made to grow the connections between local farmers, local businesses, and local families. Secretary Vilsack, your leadership and partnership will be essential as we seek to find creative solutions to a bipartisan path forward, and we appreciate your testimony here today.

With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he would like to make.