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Ranking Member Boozman’s Opening Statement at Hearing Entitiled “Rural Quality of Life: Opportunities and Challenges for the Rural Care Economy”

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, from the hearing entitled “Rural Quality of Life: Opportunities and Challenges for the Rural Care Economy”:

Thank you very much and thank you for calling this hearing today, Chairwoman Stabenow. I look forward today with my colleagues as we examine rural quality of life and the care economy. I also look forward to hearing from Under Secretary Xochitl Torres-Small and our other witnesses. Thank you for being here.

There is no question that families in rural America need access to affordable quality health care, child care and elder care in their communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development has a number of programs to help purchase, construct and improve rural health clinics, child care centers, nursing homes and other facilities to meet this need and build up the rural care economy.  I strongly support the USDA Rural Development programs that make funding available to these vital services, and we appreciate the under secretary’s hard work in providing leadership in this area.

However, we should not approach this as a “Field of Dreams” scenario, where if we build it, they will come.

Rural economic viability, a strong economic floor, is what is necessary to support a “care economy.”

Federal policies and regulations can have an outsized impact on the economy of rural America. We have seen it time and time again and we are seeing it right now.

If we truly want rural America’s families to have access to quality health care, child care and elder care, then we must provide the stability and certainty necessary for our farmers and ranchers, and the businesses they support, to thrive.

Unfortunately, the current economic and policy environment is far from stable for our rural communities.

The economic headwinds facing Americans today are simply staggering and rural America is taking a heavier hit: Inflation is the highest it has been in more than four decades at 7.9 percent. With half of the U.S. population under the age of 40, this is the highest inflation many have seen in their lifetime.

Since President Biden has taken office, food prices have increased by more than eight percent, which is the fastest rate of food price inflation of any President since Jimmy Carter.

Also, gasoline prices are up nearly 50 percent, electricity prices are up more than 30 percent, and piped gas utility prices are up 25 percent.

The average price of unleaded gasoline is now at $4.25 per gallon.

Last week, the mayor of Monette, Arkansas, Bob Blankenship, spoke about how diesel prices are approaching $5 per gallon, and his concerns about what fuel expenses may do to Monette’s budget and, ultimately, operations of essential services if city officials are forced to make difficult budget choices.

And the numbers are equally dire for our nation’s farmers and producers. Farm production expenses will be a record high $412 billion in 2022, an increase of $54 billion, or 15 percent since the president entered office.

Whether it’s regulatory decisions like cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline, placing a moratorium on conventional energy development on federal land, or failing to follow through on campaign promises to implement strong biofuels measures to reduce prices at the pump and support our nation’s farmers, the actions of this administration have certainly not been good for rural quality of life.

A common theme I hear from farmers and other rural Arkansans when I am back home every weekend is frustration with misplaced priorities and misguided policies.

Proposals like doing away with the stepped up basis, or standing up programs to achieve 30x30 –without first focusing on efforts to release disaster funding farmers have been waiting for.

Agriculture is the economic driver for the vast majority of rural America, and decisions that harm agriculture or place the needs of the industry in the background do nothing to foster rural communities.

For example, as our nation’s ag stakeholders continue to face supply chain disruptions, high input costs, tariffs and uncertainty surrounding global commodity markets, there is still no nominee for either USDA undersecretary of trade or chief agricultural negotiator at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

This means there is no trade agenda currently standing up for our nation’s farmers and producers at a time of hyper uncertainty surrounding global commodity markets.

And when we seek to work with the administration on possible solutions to address some of the most pressing issues facing the world today, like extending the deadline for Conservation Reserve Program signup to help mitigate already high inflation and food security concerns made worse by Russia’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine, USDA declines.

Shouldn’t we be doing everything in our power to address this and other issues that will very likely negatively impact global commodity markets for years to come?

Again, misplaced priorities seem to be the common theme of this administration.

I would like to have Secretary Vilsack testify before our committee, who despite interest from myself and many of my colleagues, has not appeared before our committee since his nomination hearing in February of 2021. That’s more than a year ago. That’s simply unacceptable.

Madam Chairwoman, I do appreciate you holding today’s hearing. I did enjoy being with you yesterday at the agri-fair. I really look forward to beginning to address the problems I talked about as we start work on the farm bill. I know you’re excited about that. I’m excited about that, too.

Thank you very much.