WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, released the below statement on the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which was considered Friday, May 18, 2018 on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Due to substantial concerns over the negative impact the bill would have had on rural communities, farmers, seniors and children, Congressman Bishop opposed the legislation. He was joined by a bipartisan majority of his colleagues, and the bill failed in a 198 to 213 vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives.
The Farm Bill is always a critically important piece of legislation for the 2nd Congressional District of Georgia, which includes 2.5 million acres of farmland, as well as a mix of urban and rural communities. Unfortunately, I, along with a bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, could not support the Farm Bill that was put forth for consideration. It would have abandoned our rural communities, our farmers, our seniors, and our children that rely on its vital agriculture and nutrition programs.
As the Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which is ultimately responsible for funding the programs authorized in the Farm Bill, I understand the dual importance of adequately funding nutrition programs to help our most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time, strengthening crop insurance programs to protect our nation’s farmers. My subcommittee faces that balancing act every year – it requires open dialogue, compromise, and consensus.
There are many Farm Bill priorities that enjoy bipartisan support. For example, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which is a very important program for hunger relief, has broad support. In rural areas, like the district I represent, it can provide anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the food inventory at food banks.
There is significant agreement on funding for the Farm-to-Food Bank fund, which seeks to strengthen the partnerships between growers and producers to increase food donations, and there is agreement on a number of important programs aimed at helping veteran farmers and ranchers.
There is also significant agreement on the crop insurance program, and I was pleased that the bill that was put forward largely left commodity programs as they were structured in the 2014 bill.
However, there were significant problems with many provisions included in the bill. As it was written, this bill would have failed our rural communities.
Lack of adequate broadband remains one of the biggest barriers to the global market for rural communities. It is also a barrier to education. In my district, I have students who huddle outside the local library after hours just to access the internet. In 2018, this is unacceptable. Instead of making it easier for rural communities to gain access to capital for infrastructure and economic development, this bill would have increased financing costs by adding fees to Rural Development loans.
The bill also failed to include investments in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s telemedicine programs. It is absolutely critical for our rural communities to be able to leverage the latest advances in technology to maximize rural healthcare. Telemedicine is revolutionizing patient care and saving lives. In the face of the opioid epidemic, we must invest in these initiatives.
I also object to the nearly $800 million cut in the conservation title that would have effectively eliminated the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest working lands conservation program.
The bill failed to include funding for scholarships at 1890 land grant institutions and lacked much needed investments in agriculture research and discovery.
I am also opposed to the dramatic and radical changes the bill would have made to our nutrition safety net programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Particularly, I am worried that stricter work requirements and job training programs would kick deserving people, especially kids, veterans, and senior citizens, out of the programs they need to survive. SNAP already has work requirements in place, and I believe they go far enough.
The monthly monitoring of weekly work or training requirements would create a huge, permanent bureaucratic expansion of government, and do so at a massive financial cost. In 2012, my home state of Georgia proposed radical changes to food stamp eligibility, not too different from the changes that were proposed in Friday’s bill. The Georgia measure ultimately failed because the Georgia General Assembly determined that it would have a net cost for the state of more than $300 million, and the bill that failed in the U.S. House would have introduced similar massive costs to all states in the nation.
Later this year, 19 grocery stores will close in Georgia – nine in my district. Three counties in my district have no grocery store at all. Transferring money from SNAP to state-run job training programs would have devastating consequences for local communities. It would take away business from local grocery stores, which are already too few in number, and further contribute to the prevalence of food deserts in rural communities and low-income urban communities all across the country.
I am glad to note that the proposal to replace traditional food assistance benefits with pre-packaged ‘Harvest Boxes’ was not included in the agriculture appropriations subcommittee bill, and I strenuously opposed its inclusion in the Farm Bill that was put forth for consideration. I have severe concerns about the logistical challenges of the Harvest Box proposal and few details have been offered. I am also concerned about the program’s health implications, especially for the very young and those with dietary restrictions. Moreover, I have serious concerns regarding the physical security of boxes if they were to be delivered and left at residences.
I agree that we must cut waste, fraud, and abuse, improve the efficiency of our federal programs, and ensure the integrity of the nutrition safety nets. However, we must not do so at the expense of our rural communities and our most vulnerable.
I am pleased that a bipartisan majority of my colleagues came to the same conclusion, and I hope they will stand strong as we continue to debate and consider the future of our agriculture and nutrition programs.