Congressman Sanford Bishop

Representing the 2nd District of Georgia

RANKING MEMBER BISHOP SENDS LETTER TO FARM BILL CONFEREES HIGHLIGHTING PRIORITIES FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES AND FARMERS IN GEORGIA AND NATIONWIDE

Aug 1, 2018
Press Release
ALBANY, GA – Today, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, sent a letter to House and Senate leaders on the conference committee for the 2018 Farm Bill urging them to come to an agreement on the Farm Bill that provides certainty and relief to farmers, rural communities, and those who rely on our nation’s food and nutrition programs.
 
This letter follows yesterday’s vote by the U.S. Senate to proceed to conference on the 2018 Farm Bill. A similar vote occurred in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 18. This wide-sweeping legislation seeks to reauthorize major agricultural and nutrition programs through Fiscal Year 2023. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018.
 
Congressman Bishop wrote in the letter:
 
“I am writing to express my support for a strong, robust farm bill that values conservation, invests in rural development, provides certainty to our farmers and ranchers, and adequately funds our food and nutrition programs.”
 
In May, Congressman Bishop opposed the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill due to substantial concerns with the negative impact the bill would have on rural communities, farmers, seniors, and children. In today’s letter, he urged the conferees to reject a number of the provisions included in the House version of the Farm Bill and instead adopt the more reasonable Senate provisions.
 
Congressman Bishop urged the conferees to reject the massive cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) that were included in the House version.
 
Congressman Bishop wrote:
 
“The CSP is the nation’s largest working lands conservation program that awards farmers grants to address soil health, water quality and other environmental issues on their land. The CSP’s voluntary programs allow farmers and ranchers to improve grazing conditions and improve crop yields to help them thrive and stay competitive. Strong conservation programs will ensure our farmers are prosperous for generations to come.”
 
Rural development programs are also an important part of the Farm Bill. Congressman Bishop stressed the importance of rural development programs that continue to strengthen rural communities in middle and southwest Georgia, and nationwide, through access to broadband, infrastructure, housing, and economic development. He urged conferees to remove a House proposal that would increase electric costs for rural residents, as well as a House provision that would reduce resources for rural water and sewer infrastructure.
 
Congressman Bishop continued in the letter:
 
“The final bill must make rural development a priority. There is a huge disconnect between the level of economic prosperity and opportunity available in urban areas versus rural areas. Congress must make it easier for rural communities to gain access to capital for infrastructure and economic development.”
 
Additionally, last year, the nation, and farmers in particular, were struck by one severe weather event after another. The Senate bill includes a provision to provide $18 million for 2017 blueberry and peach losses due to extreme cold. Congressman Bishop urged the conference committee to adopt this provision in the farm bill. Congressman Bishop also urged continued investment in agriculture research done by institutions of higher education, particularly at 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
 
For our farmers, this legislation comes on the heels of several years of declining commodity prices and in the midst of an escalating trade war. This period of great uncertainty for the nation’s farmers underscores the need to pass new Farm Bill legislation before the current Farm Bill expires.  
 
Congressman Bishop also urged the conference committee to reject the House’s “so-called” reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which would dramatically harm our nation’s most vulnerable populations, including children, veterans, and senior citizens, as well as exacerbate the ongoing challenge of food deserts in many rural and urban communities.
 
Congressman Bishop wrote:
 
“While I agree that we need to cut fraud, waste and abuse, the drastic cuts and changes to SNAP in the House bill are unacceptable. SNAP is widely considered an efficient and successful safety net that offers desperately needed support to those in need. I strongly support the Senate’s bipartisan language that improves SNAP’s program integrity and operations, invests in pilot programs to better understand job training programs, and most importantly rejects strict work requirements that would kick deserving people, especially kids, veterans, and senior citizens, out of the program.”
 
Congressman Bishop concluded his letter by stating:
 
“I am confident Congress can come together and pass a comprehensive farm bill that meets the challenges our nation faces today.”
 
Full text of Congressman Bishop’s letter can be found below:
 
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August 1, 2018
                                                                                                               
The Honorable Mike Conaway                                   
Chairman                                                                                            
House Committee on Agriculture                                             
1301 Longworth House Office Building                   
Washington, DC 20515                                                  
 
The Honorable Collin Peterson 
Ranking Member
House Committee on Agriculture
1305 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
 
The Honorable Pat Roberts                                                         
Chairman                                                                                            
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry                                                            
328A Russell Senate Office Building                                                         
Washington, DC, 20510                                                 
 
The Honorable Debbie Stabenow
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry
328A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC, 20510
 
Dear Chairmen Conaway and Roberts and Ranking Members Peterson and Stabenow:
 
I am writing to express my support for a strong, robust farm bill that values conservation, invests in rural development, provides certainty to our farmers and ranchers, and adequately funds our food and nutrition programs. As the Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which is ultimately responsible for funding many of the programs authorized in this legislation, I understand the challenges of balancing these competing priorities. It is critical that this process garners input and support from a bipartisan coalition and produces a farm bill that can pass both chambers of Congress. Below are my priorities:
 
  • Conservation: I do not support the drastic cuts to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in the House bill. The CSP is the nation’s largest working lands conservation program that awards farmers grants to address soil health, water quality and other environmental issues on their land. The CSP’s voluntary programs allow farmers and ranchers to improve grazing conditions and improve crop yields to help them thrive and stay competitive. Strong conservation programs will ensure our farmers are prosperous for generations to come.
  • Rural Development: The final bill must make rural development a priority. There is a huge disconnect between the level of economic prosperity and opportunity available in urban areas versus rural areas. Congress must make it easier for rural communities to gain access to capital for infrastructure and economic development. This includes rural broadband. While both bills invest in rural broadband, I support the House’s effort to include an additional $350 million for grants in rural broadband, electric infrastructure, and telecommunications infrastructure programs. And while I was pleased both bills increased the Rural Water and Wastewater Circuit Rider Program to $25 million, I am opposed to excessive fees and reduced funding to Rural Water and Wastewater Facility Grants that will make it more difficult for rural communities to receive the support they need.
 
Additionally, I do not support attempts to zero-out such programs as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and the Value Added Producer Grants Programs as proposed in the House bill. Both programs encourage the growth of rural farms and businesses and are critical for rural prosperity. I also cannot support the House’s language that defunds the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). I strongly support the Senate’s language that more than doubles REAP funding to $50 million for each fiscal year between 2019 and 2023.
 
However, I urge you to exclude the Senate’s language that makes changes to the cushion of credit program. The cushion of credit program allows entities that borrow money from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), such as electric cooperatives, to make voluntary deposits into an account that accrues interest and can only be used to repay debts. This provides greater certainty to the federal government that loans will be repaid and offers rural communities affordable electricity. Changes to the program and its current interest rate will ultimately be felt by consumers who will see an increase in their monthly rates.
 
  • Safety Net for Farmers: The current Senate version includes $18 million for 2017 blueberry and peach losses due to extreme cold. I strongly urge the inclusion of this provision in the final bill and support the highest possible funding. Strong safety net programs and being responsive to farmers’ needs are staples of all farm bills. As commodity prices continue to fall it is important that farmers are able to effectively manage their risks. At the same time, Congress also has a responsibility to act when the unexpected happens. I also urge the adoption of three House provisions over their counterparts in the Senate. First, I support the House’s language to maintain an Adjusted Gross Income limit of $900,000, and oppose the Senate’s effort to reduce it to $700,000. Second, I oppose the overly restrictive definition of and requirements to be considered “actively engaged in farming.” The House bill continues current law on ‘actively engaged’ and expands it to include extended family members. Third, I support the House provision that assists U.S. textile industries by increasing the Economic Adjustment Assistance Program rate to 3.15 cents per pound, compared to the Senate’s language which is only 3 cents.
  • 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Now more than ever we must support agriculture research done by institutions of higher education, particularly at 1890 Land-Grant Universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These institutions are struggling with deferred maintenance of their research facilities as well as funding disparities. I urge you to provide funding streams that would positively impact their agricultural research. I urge you to include funding for the grant program that awards scholarships to students at 1890 Land-Grant institutions. The average age of farmers and producers in the US is 60 years of age. These scholarships will help increase the number of young African-American individuals seeking a career in the food and agricultural sciences.
  • Trade: As trade uncertainties continue to grow, the agricultural industry is bearing some of the worst consequences. This legislation offers Congress an opportunity to unequivocally stand with our farmers, ranchers, and producers. I support increasing funding for programs that help create, maintain, and strengthen export markets such as the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Cooperator Program. I also support the establishment of the export assistance program for specialty crops to help address the unique export challenges these crops face. It is critical that this committee, and Congress as a whole, take decisive action to provide immediate relief in any way possible to our producers during current and future trade wars.
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Finally, while I agree that we need to cut fraud, waste, and abuse, the drastic cuts and changes to SNAP in the House bill are unacceptable. SNAP is widely considered an efficient and successful safety net that offers desperately needed support to those in need. I strongly support the Senate’s bipartisan language that improves SNAP’s program integrity and operations, invests in pilot programs to better understand job training programs, and most importantly rejects strict work requirements that would kick deserving people, especially kids, veterans, and senior citizens, out of the program. Any reform that would shame those that receive SNAP benefits or limit the ability of vulnerable citizens to receive the nutrition they need to survive must be excluded, particularly in rural areas where food desserts remain a persistent challenge. The committee must also address hunger within the military. In 2013, 23,000 active duty service members relied on SNAP benefits. And in a recent survey of military personal, about 15 percent of those surveyed, responded, “Yes” to experiencing food insecurity. To address this issue, the committee should adopt a provision to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing Allotment from soldiers’ income calculation. This would allow more service members the opportunity to enroll in SNAP.
 
We must do everything in our power to ensure the current bill does not lapse. I came to Congress to use the political process to improve the quality of life for the people of the 2nd Congressional District of Georgia and all humankind. The farm bill is a piece of legislation that provides certainty and hope to millions of people. I am confident Congress can come together and pass a comprehensive farm bill that meets the challenges our nation faces today.
 
With warmest personal regards, I remain
 
Sincerely yours,
 
Sanford D. Bishop, Jr.
Member of Congress
 
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