Bustos supports Farm Bill from ag committee

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Congresswoman Cheri Bustos said Thursday she believes the proposed five-year Farm Bill sent from the House Agriculture Committee to the House Floor will be helpful to the number one industry in her district.

While that meant compromising on a couple matters she didn't like, Bustos said helping farmers in her 17th District gain certainty, particularly in crop insurance initiatives, was enough to get her vote for approval in committee.

"I do believe this bill will be helpful to our region and to the agriculture industry as a whole. If I didn't see it that way I would not have supported it," Bustos said during a telephone news conference.

The freshman Democrat congresswoman from East Moline was appointed to the House agriculture committee because farming is such important industry in Illinois and she said the 10-hour committee hearing that ended late Wednesday with an affirmative vote of 36-10 was a good exercise in bipartisanship.

Noting that a year ago Congress had to grant a one-year extension to the previous Farm Bill after it was unable to get a new five-year bill to the House floor, Bustos said it was apparent everyone on the committee wants a bill approved this year, as do farmers. That extension expires in September.

If the House approves the bill, it then will have to be reconciled with the Senate version of a Farm Bill for a final vote. Bustos declined to even speculate how she would vote until she knows what that final version will be. "It is my hope that House leadership will bring the Farm Bill to the floor for consideration by the entire chamber, so that we can iron out our differences with the Senate and send the bill to the President's desk by the fall," Bustos continued.

She acknowledged during the news conference that she voted to approve the House agriculture committee version even though it includes a provision for cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including food stamps. Bustos said voted for several amendments that would have restored funding to help feed hungry children and families as they strive to get back on their feet, but they were defeated.

Because of that, she said it was a struggle deciding how to vote on the final agriculture committee bill but she decided to support it because of its overall effects. Those effects, she added, could restore or create jobs in agriculture. "In the end it was just too important to the agriculture industry. And I believe the best way to end poverty and reliance on programs such as SNAP is to improve the economy," she said.

Bustos said one of the common themes she heard from farm families in her travels throughout the 17th District was the need for certainty in crop insurance programs in the event of natural disasters harming yields. "This bill would give them that certainty," she said. "It would help them stay strong and stable even when disaster strikes."

This Farm Bill also contains an amendment sponsored by Bustos that would help aid improvements to river transportation infrastructure, flood prevention and drought relief, including the aging locks and dams along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

The amendment specifies that as the U.S. Department of Agriculture updates its study on rural transportation issues that it examines how river infrastructure affects production and movement of agricultural goods and the benefits of upgrading and repairing our waterway infrastructure, in particular the aging locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. This would aid not only river transportation infrastructure but also flood prevention and drought relief in the region, Bustos said.

Another provision in the bill encourages veterans and other young people to become involved in agriculture. It helps build the pipeline of young farmers by reauthorizing and amending several beginning farmer and rancher programs. For instance, the bill reduces crop insurance premiums for beginning farmers, expands the definition of socially disadvantaged farmers to include veterans, and establishes a Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison to connect returning veterans with agricultural training opportunities and resources.

The bill also helps establish the Healthy Food Finance Initiative, a program that creates jobs, helps small businesses and local economies, eliminates food deserts, and promotes public health. It also provides loans and grants to food retailers, cooperatives, and farmers markets to establish or expand stores in rural and underserved areas to provide consumers living in food deserts access to healthy and affordable foods, Bustos said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).