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Ranking Member Stabenow Opening Statement at Hearing on Rural Development and Energy

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, today released the following opening statement at the hearing titled "Implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill: Rural Development and Energy Programs."

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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome to our witnesses and thank you for being here.

Everyone in this room knows that rural America is the backbone of our economy, just like my hometown of Clare. All across the country, people in rural communities create small businesses, run family farms, and work in manufacturing.

We should be doing everything we can to celebrate and strengthen our small towns. In the 2018 Farm Bill, we made smart investments to grow rural opportunity and ensure every American can enjoy a high quality of life no matter where they live.

When I visit rural Michigan, one of the top concerns I hear is that they need access to high-speed internet in order to participate in the 21st Century economy. In the Farm Bill, we increased the funding available for high-speed internet deployment – 15 times the previous amount!

I understand the USDA is currently writing new rules for the Farm Bill improvements. I urge the Department to meet its goal to complete the rules by December so that Congress can fund this new-and-improved program.

Families in rural communities are also concerned about access to health care – especially with the opioid crisis taking a devastating toll on small towns. We addressed this head on through expanded telemedicine and community facility investments to provide critical treatment options for those who suffer from addiction.

To ensure that every family has safe drinking water, we prioritized rural water infrastructure investments for small towns dealing with dangerous contaminants like PFAS.

Rural communities also need strong locally owned businesses and good, high paying jobs. Rural small business investments are critical to creating jobs, promoting entrepreneurship, and revitalizing Main Streets.

In states like Michigan, where we make things and grow things, agriculture and manufacturing are both at the heart of our economy. 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.

We also provided permanent funding for value-added agriculture grants to help farmers grow their business – whether they’re turning locally-grown tomatoes into salsa or corn into ethanol. This creates new markets for our producers and new jobs and manufacturing opportunities for our businesses.

Investing in renewable energy also leads to job creation and helps us address the climate crisis.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, I included permanent mandatory funding for the popular Rural Energy for America Program – known as “REAP” – which helps farmers and businesses lower their utility bills through installing renewable energy systems and making efficiency upgrades.

From hog producers to organic fruit growers, these grants have helped a wide variety of Michigan farmers save money and become more energy efficient. We’ve also seen wineries, breweries, and restaurants across the state install solar arrays to power their rural small businesses.

As USDA implements the Farm Bill, we need this Administration to step up to strengthen our rural economy. Over the past three years, it’s been disheartening to see the Trump Administration continue to target rural America and the Farm Bill for cuts. We need to be investing more in rural communities – not less. Eliminating rural infrastructure and small business investments move us in the wrong direction.

On the issue of renewable fuels, this Administration continues to let down American farmers and biofuel producers by caving to the demands of the oil industry.

Additionally, I am disappointed that this committee has still not received a nominee for an Under Secretary of Rural Development. We re-established this important position in the Farm Bill to be a staunch advocate for rural America within the Administration. We need a focused leader to address all of the concerns facing our small towns and rural communities.

It’s great to see our three rural development administrators here today – and I look forward to hearing your perspectives.

Thank you again Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing.