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Statement on H.R. 2, Farm Bill

May 18, 2018

M. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, known as the Farm Bill. This bill weakens our ability to fight hunger, undermines conservation efforts, and fails to address the needs of small and family farms.

The Farm Bill should provide a safety net for both the hard-working farmers who produce food and those who consume it. In the past, bipartisan Farm Bills have met the needs of both rural and urban communities and have found a balance in the policies that support farmers and those facing food insecurity. Unfortunately, this year Republican leaders on the House Agriculture Committee halted a bipartisan effort and brought a very partisan bill to the floor. The proposal is the result of an ideologically-driven process that was rushed and inadequate, leaving farm and food programs in jeopardy.

More than 80 percent of the funding in the Farm Bill supports nutrition assistance programs for the nearly 41 million Americans facing food insecurity. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows low-income families to purchase food, and the program continues to play a critical role in helping these families escape the devastating effects of poverty. This program is vital for families in Oregon and across the country. According to a Census Bureau report, nearly 20 percent of families in Oregon rely on SNAP. Unfortunately, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act would slash more than $23 billion in SNAP benefits, removing food from the tables of tens of thousands of hungry Oregonians, and an estimated one million households nationwide.

Additionally, because SNAP is tied to eligibility for federal school meal programs, this bill would cut access to free school meals for an estimated 265,000 low-income children each year. This cruel and needless policy will result in additional hunger. Children need nutrition to learn and thrive and succeed in school, and hungry children are more likely to stay trapped in poverty.

Under current law, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49, without dependents, are only eligible to receive SNAP benefits for three months every three years, unless they are employed or in training for at least 20 hours per week. This bill would expand these requirements, harming many older low-income Americans and ignoring the caregiving responsibilities and other barriers to employment that many people face. SNAP provides some of our most vulnerable populations with access to affordable food; it is not and should not be a workforce training program.

The bill would also eliminate the “Heat and Eat” program, which allows Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) participants to receive a modest standard allowance so families do not need to choose between paying their energy bills and having access to food. These cuts would threaten many families, children, and seniors in Oregon and across the country.

The Farm Bill should provide support for farmers and ranchers who are struggling to make ends meet because of low market prices for goods, high production costs, and significant market uncertainty. This is especially important in light of the trade disruptions and tariff tit-for-tat initiated by the current Administration. Unfortunately, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act would fail to raise reference prices for most traditional crops to address the continued decline in farm income, limiting support for those who need it the most. 

Northwest Oregon is home to many organic and specialty crop farmers, and I am disappointed that this bill did not increase funding for Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, programs that help a wide variety of food producers such as blueberry and hazelnut farms, as well as vineyards producing world-renowned wines. The bill also neglected to increase funding for research into organic farming practices, an area that has demonstrated tremendous growth and that harbors further potential.

Our state exports a large majority of its agricultural products. Even with market uncertainty as a result of inconsistent messages and a changing narrative from the Administration, this bill failed to increase funding for the Market Access Program, the Foreign Market Development Program, and the Emerging Markets Program. The bill also eliminates the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, which supports robust local production and purchasing.

The bill also included troublesome language that would prohibit states from establishing standards and conditions on agricultural products sold within their borders. This could preempt several state laws in Oregon related to labeling malt beverages as beer, prohibiting the sale and possession of shark fins, and prohibiting retaliatory discrimination in farm worker camps. Oregonians should have the right to implement standards around labeling and animal welfare and avoid purchasing out of state products that fail to comply.

Farmers are natural stewards of the land and have direct experience with conserving natural resources. The Farm Bill should support those efforts, but it eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, slashing $795 million in conservation funding. The bill would also remove a requirement that the Environmental Protection Agency consult with wildlife services to protect endangered species, fish, and wildlife from harmful pesticides. Further, it would reduce funding needed to maintain the integrity of the National Organic Program and eliminate existing bioenergy and renewable programs that support farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses. 

Finally, I am disappointed that my bipartisan amendment to legalize industrial hemp and define it as an agricultural commodity was not allowed to come to the floor for a vote. American farmers have been growing hemp since the country was founded, and hemp products account for more than $680 million in annual domestic sales. Thirty four states have legalized hemp production, and legalizing it at the federal level would bolster our economy and allow farmers and universities to continue researching and cultivating the crop. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance federal policies that support the hemp industry.

This bill fails to support hard-working farmers and takes away food assistance from the most vulnerable. We must do better for our constituents. I am unable to vote in favor of increasing hunger and harming local farmers, and I urge my colleagues to oppose this bill.