WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today joined Senators and Representatives from both parties at the first Farm Bill Conference Committee Meeting.
The Farm Bill Conference Committee is composed of 56 members, including nine Senators and 47 Representatives. As Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow serves as one of the four leaders of the conference committee. The meeting brings the conference committee one step closer to finalizing a five-year Farm Bill that will create jobs and provide certainty for the agricultural economy.
You can watch the Farm Bill Conference Committee Meeting live here.
Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
Today’s conference committee meeting shows that through hard-work and perseverance, bipartisanship is still possible.
Thanks to your leadership, Chairman Roberts, the Senate delivered a strong Farm Bill that maintained the bipartisan food, farm, and conservation coalition.
I was proud to be your partner in that important effort.
In addition to having the support of over 500 groups, it passed on a historic vote of 86-11—the most votes a Farm Bill has ever received in the Senate since the very first bill in the 1933 during the depths of the Great Depression.
While we’re not in the 1930’s, times are tough for our agricultural economy. Commodity prices are low, trade disruptions are creating uncertainty, and many farmers are struggling.
When I am home in Michigan, where agriculture supports one in four jobs, I hear from our farmers and agricultural businesses that now more than ever —they need the certainty of a five-year Farm Bill.
We can give them the certainty they need – if we work together. Chairman Roberts and I worked side by side on every part of our bill – from the Commodity and Conservation Titles to the Nutrition Title. Because we know that feeding people in need and helping them find good paying jobs doesn’t have to be a partisan issue. In fact, it shouldn’t be.
We have two basic safety-nets in the Farm Bill. One for farmers and one for families. We know that the costs of the farmer safety-net are going up because of drops in commodity prices, massive uncertainty on trade, and serious labor challenges.
The good news is that the safety-net for families, or SNAP, is working and costs are going down. The Congressional Budget Office has said food assistance programs are saving $80 billion more than initially expected because the economy is getting better and unemployment is going down.
Therefore, massive eligibility changes that would take away SNAP benefits for 2 million people and subject millions of moms with young children, seniors and others to unnecessary paperwork burdens makes no sense.
And, importantly, these cuts do not have support in the Senate – and do not even have strong consensus in the House.
In the Senate, we focused on bipartisan provisions to improve the integrity of nutrition assistance by tightening oversight of state administration of SNAP.
Nutrition programs already have strong work requirements. We maintained and strengthened them in the Senate bill by creating new job training opportunities to help participants find good paying jobs so they no longer need temporary help.
Nutrition is only one of the differences between our bills. The Senate Bill also supports the wide variety of farms all across America.
Our country doesn’t just produce a handful of crops. From corn and soybeans to specialty crops and organics, the strength of our agriculture economy is rooted in the diversity of what we grow.
We need to invest in the future of agriculture by providing permanent investments for a number of important priorities.
Helping young people and returning veterans start successful agricultural careers supports the next generation of farmers.
Including historic support for organic research helps farmers tap into this fast-growing sector of agriculture.
Making new investments in both trade promotion and local food systems allow our farmers to sell their products here at home and abroad.
Additionally, we can all agree that our farmers should have robust risk-management tools including crop insurance, and new tools for our dairy farmers.
We should also establish meaningful payment limits to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and that only farmers who need it are receiving commodity program payments.
Also, conservation tools help our farmers keep their farmland productive while also protecting our land and water. We should not target these important resources for cuts.
Instead, we should look for opportunities to grow investments. We did that in the Senate bill by focusing on successful conservation partnerships that will leverage an additional $1 billion in private funding on the ground.
We also cannot go backwards on fundamental protections for our water, forests, and wildlife. If we are serious about providing the certainty our farmers and families deserve and getting the Farm Bill done, we must avoid poison pill riders.
We need to focus on ways to create jobs in rural communities by making investments in clean energy and biobased manufacturing.
These investments along with expanded high-speed internet, opioid treatment resources, rural water infrastructure investments, and the restoration of the Under Secretary for Rural Development are all common-sense provisions that should be included in the final bill.
We know there are important differences between our two bills.
One thing we all agree on is the urgent need to pass a five year Farm Bill.
I believe if we work together, our conference committee can carry on the tradition of passing a bipartisan Farm Bill. And that we can get it done by September 30th.
I look forward to working with members of this committee to do just that.