Column: Working Toward a Bipartisan Farm Bill

To the Valley News
Wednesday, September 05, 2018

As a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, I am always thinking about how we can enact policies that will benefit hardworking farmers, rural communities and New Hampshire’s agricultural economy.

That’s why I was so disappointed when House Republicans decided to move forward with a partisan farm bill that slashes billions in conservation funding and did not adequately support smaller farms. The House Republican farm bill also included dramatic cuts to nutrition programs that help over 90,000 Granite Staters put food on the table.

Thankfully, Senate Republicans and Democrats came together to pass a bipartisan farm bill that does right by communities across New Hampshire.

For small family farms and consumers in New Hampshire, we have a chance to send to the president a farm bill that will spur economic growth in the Granite State while helping to preserve our environment and protect the most vulnerable among us. I’m privileged to have been appointed as a member of the Conference Committee, which is charged with reconciling the differences between the House and Senate farm bills. This task will not be easy. The farm bill covers programs related to international food aid, renewable energy, conservation, forestry and rural development. The wide differences between the two competing versions of the legislation will require diligent work to ensure that the best interests of hardworking farmers and Granite State families are put first.

I’m committed to funding programs that are having a real impact on the ground here in New Hampshire, such as the Northern Border Regional Commission. The commission has awarded millions of dollars to rural communities in our state to spur economic development and infrastructure projects, including the construction of a new facility to help improve substance use treatment services at Friendship House in Bethlehem. Just this summer, the commission announced funding for more than a dozen projects in New Hampshire, ranging from constructing an indoor and outdoor community gathering space in Enfield to expanding high-speed internet in Bristol.

While I’m pleased the Senate and House passed a spending bill that includes $20 million for the Northern Border Regional Commission, we must push for continued funding and full reauthorization to give this critical program the certainty that it needs. The farm bill is an important vehicle to reauthorize programs that expand affordable housing options, boost access to opioid treatment, and increase higher educational opportunities for those living in rural communities.

In addition, the farm bill provides critical risk management tools for farmers in New Hampshire. Both the Senate and House farm bills include positive reforms to management programs for dairy producers who have been struggling with tight margins and historically low prices throughout the Northeast. New Hampshire’s dairy industry has fallen on hard times since we last passed a farm bill in 2014, and it is imperative that dairy producers in our state have access to an effective safety net that protects them against low prices and high regional feed costs.

One of the most important parts of the farm bill is the conservation title, which helps producers implement environmentally sound conservation practices on their farm. The House version of the farm bill would slash conservation funding by $800 million.

The farm bill is one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation we will consider this year, and I’m hopeful we can prevent these cuts so that New Hampshire farmers are able to continue to utilize the important programs that support efforts to preserve farm land in our state.

The farm bill also helps to provide nutrition assistance for nearly 90,000 of the most vulnerable people in New Hampshire. Nearly 50 percent of New Hampshire households that receive assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, have either disabled individuals or children under the age of 18.

SNAP provides an incredibly modest benefit, averaging just $1.11 per person, per meal, per day. Unfortunately, the House Republican farm bill makes harmful funding cuts to SNAP that would increase food insecurity in New Hampshire for some of our most vulnerable citizens.

The partisan approach taken by House Republicans broke the lasting tradition of working across the aisle to pass a bipartisan farm bill that provides long-term certainty for American farmers. It is time to put politics aside and work together to deliver real results for New Hampshire farmers and rural communities.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat for Hopkinton, represents New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District