WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement – as prepared for delivery – at the hearing entitled “Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill.”
Stabenow’s statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing to discuss issues that are so critically important to small towns and rural communities in Michigan, Kansas, and across the country. I also want to welcome our witnesses here today.
Earlier this year, we held a hearing to examine the state of the farm and rural economy. There, we heard loudly and clearly that those who live and work in rural America are facing tough economic times.
But we also learned that there are many opportunities to invest in the future of our small towns and rural communities, create good-paying jobs, and help them get back on a track.
Rural communities are often the first to feel effects of an economic downturn and the last to see the impacts of an improving economy.
As a result, we should be making more investments in rural America, not less.
Looking ahead to the next Farm Bill, we need to think strategically about how we can achieve long-term economic growth in every region of the country.
I’ve always said that the Farm Bill is a jobs bill. The rural development and energy titles that we’re discussing today have a wealth of opportunities to provide a bright future for rural America.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan. So, strengthening our rural communities and ensuring a high quality of life is personal for me.
In order for our communities to thrive, they need to be able to compete in the 21st century economy. Improving access to high speed internet is one of the top ways to make sure that happens.
USDA provides critical support and capital to expand broadband access. We need to strengthen the tools available to extend high speed internet to every corner of the country.
We also need to continue investing in other forms of rural infrastructure. It is unacceptable that there are small towns that cannot afford to modernize their water systems to provide clean drinking water.
Small businesses need access to capital as well. Rural business loans help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, while also offering new employment opportunities for the community at large.
We need to continue to invest in innovation that will keep driving these economies forward.
In Michigan, agriculture and manufacturing are at the heart of our economy. We don’t have a middle class unless we make things and grow things.
That’s why we created opportunities in the last Farm Bill to support biobased manufacturing. Instead of using petroleum, companies are creating new products from American-grown crops.
The economic benefit is twofold: new markets for our farmers, and new jobs and manufacturing opportunities for our businesses.
Additionally, the Farm Bill invests in renewable energy, which also leads to job creation. According to a new report, there are now 92,000 clean energy jobs in Michigan alone.
The popular Rural Energy for America Program – known as “REAP” – helps producers and businesses lower their utility bills through installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency upgrades.
Innovations in advanced biofuels are helping us to become more energy independent and pay less at the pump.
It’s clear the opportunities we created in the 2014 Farm Bill are helping our small towns and rural communities create jobs and support communities where parents want to raise their children.
As we begin work on the next bill, I look forward to building on that progress to help rural America reach its full potential.