WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the hearing entitled “Farm Bill 2023: Rural Development and Energy Programs.”
Good morning, I am pleased to join the Chairwoman in welcoming our colleagues and our witnesses to today’s hearing.
I am delighted we have returned to our historic hearing room. Our hearing room is very different from the other hearing rooms in the Senate. Instead of a dais, we have a table. Rather than sitting apart, we sit across from one another. Portraits of our predecessors remind us that we are part of a long tradition of working together to serve our nation’s farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, rural communities and those who are hungry. I believe the room is set this way on purpose, as a reminder that the work of this committee is too important—and impacts too many people’s lives—for us not to be able to look each other in the eye and reach across the table to serve our fellow Americans.
Americans have been through a lot since the last time we gathered to write a farm bill. The pandemic, record-high inflation, breakdowns in the supply chain, the war in the Ukraine, floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires have tested all of us. Rural America was not shielded from any of these challenges. In fact, in many ways, the impact in rural America was greater.
Just ask any parent living in rural America about the challenge of schooling their children from home during the pandemic without internet access.
Or ask the rural hospitals struggling to keep their doors open and continuing to serve their community while navigating the unprecedented effects of the pandemic.
This next farm bill will be informed by these experiences. As we develop the next farm bill, I believe our clear focus should be on rural America. How do the programs and the policies of the federal government help or hurt life in rural America? Because if one part of America is not living up to its potential, then all of America is held back.
Today’s hearing on rural development and energy programs is the perfect way to kick off our committee’s title-by-title review of the 2018 farm bill. As an agency, Rural Development (RD) can provide loans and grants to basically build a community from the ground up. The range of assistance it offers is vast: from water, sanitation, electricity, and broadband, to loans for small businesses, financing for cooperatives and grants for community facilities, Rural Development is a tremendous resource.
As we review the mission area’s programs, we must redouble our efforts to make them more accessible. A professional grant writer should not be necessary for communities to be successful applicants. Additionally, I think it is important that we learn how requirements from RD and other agencies are making projects more expensive and less timely.
I appreciate each of the witnesses joining us today, Undersecretary Xochitl Torres-Small and especially the experts testifying on the second panel. Thank you for taking time from your families and your jobs and traveling to be with us today. Your perspective is vitally important as we consider how to make RD work better for your communities. I look forward to hearing from each of you.
Again, thank you to the Chairwoman for holding today’s hearing. I look forward to working with you and our colleagues on the next farm bill.