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Chairwoman Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Rural Development and Energy Programs

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 “Farm Bill 2023: Rural Development and Energy Programs”. Live video of the hearing is available here.

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

I call this hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to order. Welcome to Under Secretary Torres-Small and to all our witnesses. It is wonderful to have you here today to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development and Energy programs as we prepare for the 2023 Farm Bill.  

I’d like to begin by thanking my Ranking Member Senator Boozman for his partnership in continuing a bipartisan process for the 2023 Farm Bill. Congratulations on your successful reelection last week. I look forward to our continued partnership on this Committee. This is the first of what will be a series of hearings to review titles of the Farm Bill and to hear from those in farm country about the needs of our rural communities.   

We started this process earlier this year with field hearings in Michigan and Arkansas, where we heard from people on the ground what is working for them, and what is not. We all know that the Farm Bill is a jobs bill. The Rural Development and Energy titles of the Farm Bill create good-paying jobs in rural communities like my hometown of Clare in northern Michigan and improve the quality of life for rural working families. 

Every American deserves a great quality of life, no matter where they live. Rural communities trust USDA Rural Development to help them with critical community infrastructure projects – from broadband to water, clean electricity to small business lending. We all know that rural prosperity starts with reliable access to broadband. Investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law have us well on our way to ensuring that every American has access to broadband – and the USDA must remain a key partner in that effort. 

Rural customers should not accept second-rate broadband service, including slower speeds and fewer choices than their urban counterparts. Last month alone, the Biden-Harris Administration awarded $59 million to connect over 5,000 rural Michigan residents to high-speed internet. Think of the difference this connection will make for our small businesses who are connecting to customers, our students who are doing their homework at night, and our families who are seeing a doctor, attending community meetings remotely, and staying connected with friends and family. 

I look forward to hearing the recommendations from our witnesses today about how we can create a long-term broadband program in the next Farm Bill that ensures rural Americans have affordable and reliable service. In addition to broadband service, USDA Rural Development and their partner organizations are sources of reliable capital to grow rural small businesses. Think about the young entrepreneur who is finally able to launch her small business thanks to affordable financing from USDA Rural Development. Our rural economies depend on these small businesses, and USDA Rural Development plays a key role in improving access to capital and other support.  

As I always say, in Michigan, we grow things and make things, that’s what drives our economy. Bio-based products combine both. These products create new markets for our nation’s farmers while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. From the seats and cupholders in a great Michigan-made vehicle, to some of the clothes we wear, bio-based products replace plastics often made with petroleum. That helps create markets for our farmers, keep manufacturing jobs here at home, and address the climate crisis. I look forward to hearing recommendations on ways to improve the BioPreferred Program while continuing to build our nation’s bioeconomy. 

Rural communities and our nation’s farmers are on the front lines of the climate crisis – but they are also the best partners in stopping it in its tracks. The climate crisis will continue to threaten the rural way of life. We must ensure rural communities have the tools they need to be leaders in addressing its impacts. Since the last Farm Bill, we’ve seen too many natural disasters and climate shifts impact various regions of our country. This upcoming Farm Bill offers a chance to create good-paying jobs in rural communities while giving them the tools they need to tackle the climate crisis. 

Programs like the Rural Energy for America Program give farmers opportunities to decrease their operating costs and become energy efficient while reducing emissions. Also, rural utilities, including rural electric cooperatives, are on the cutting edge of renewable energy technology and depend on USDA Rural Development as a reliable financing partner. The next Farm Bill is also an opportunity to address unique rural challenges that have risen in the past few years. Across the federal government, there are over 400 programs open to rural communities for infrastructure and community development, spanning 13 federal departments. 

Part-time and volunteer local government officials cannot – and should not – be expected to hire expensive consultants just to complete complex Federal applications. USDA has a responsibility to lead federal coordination for rural communities and provide the necessary technical assistance. Our rural communities need simplified applications and assistance from community partners to develop comprehensive economic development strategies. Both titles present bipartisan opportunities to not just address challenges rural communities face, but also to enhance the strengths that make them great places to live. 

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about their goals for the next Farm Bill. I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record statements from the Rural Network, Housing Assistance Council, the Rural Community Action Partnership, the National Cooperative Business Association, and BIO. Without objection. So ordered. With that, I’ll turn to Ranking Member Boozman for any opening remarks he’d like to make.?