U.S. Rep. Timothy V. Johnson issued the following statement today following bipartisan passage of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act by the House Agriculture Committee.
As Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, Rep. Johnson played a pivotal role in the development of this legislation.
"This legislation is the product of years of study, of listening and of distilling the needs of the many interests that benefit from and are dependent on our country's farm policy," Rep. Johnson said. "Our farmers are the best in the world, producing safe, abundant and affordable food for the world. The agriculture sector is one of the few bright spots in our economy and must be protected.
"At the same time, our country is hurting. We all must sacrifice where we can. Existing farm policy needs reforms across the board. This agreement, forged with input from both sides of the aisle and from many diverse constituencies, does just that.
"The FARRM Act will save more than $35 billion in mandatory funding. That's $35 billion in deficit reduction. The savings comes from eliminating direct payments to farmers and streamlining and reforming commodity policy for a savings of $14 billion.
"Another $16 billion in savings comes from reforms in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, while preserving that safety net for those who continue to qualify under existing eligibility rules. I want to emphasize that nobody gets their food stamp allotment cut under these changes. But with some simple changes, we can correct abuses that are costing taxpayers billions.
"One example is the way some states are increasing individuals' eligibility. Some states automatically award food-stamp benefits to any household that gets any kind of low-income assistance program. In some cases, households get an income deduction if they receive Low Income Home Energy Assistance. In practice, this means that even $1 in LI-HEAP assistance can translate into $130 in food stamp benefits.
"This loose and irresponsible, categorical awarding of eligibility qualifies people even if they receive a pamphlet about assistance programs or are given access to a 1-800 help hotline. This has to stop and again these changes do nothing to restrict food stamps from those who rightfully deserve them.
"Elsewhere in the legislation, unwieldy conservation programs are consolidated in a comprehensive reform from 23 to 13 programs for a savings of $6 billion. Maximum enrollment of the Conservation Reserve Program is limited over time, allowing enrollment to focus on the most environmentally sensitive lands, and allowing enrolled acres to be used for haying and grazing, among other reforms.
"Rural development programs, too, under the jurisdiction of my subcommittee and as a direct result of hearings I chaired in Illinois, are streamlined for savings and efficiency while preserving the loans and grants so essential to rural communities for everything from water resources and wastewater plants to broadband development and Telemedicine Distance Learning.
"Also as a result of hearings back home, we have instituted regulatory reforms on biotechnology research to help prevent unnecessary delays in getting this work transferred from the lab to the field, an effort that not only rewards biotechnology research at the University of Illinois and other research universities but contributes to a safer and more abundant food supply.
"This bill also creates a Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new competitive grant-based program that allows private organizations, producers and land-grant universities to pool resources to mitigate environmental degradation of farming in specific regions such as the Upper Mississippi River.
"In another initiative close to my heart, we have introduced a provision in the bill that allows Farmers Markets to deflect 100 percent of the cost of EBT Card Readers, which will allow food-stamp recipients to use their SNAP cards at Farmers Markets that were previously unavailable to them. This will increase local buying, local consuming, better nutrition and better health. This provision also expands access to fresh fruits and vegetables through a coupon program that doubles buying power when shopping at local Farmers Markets.
"It is my hope that the Congress will look critically and favorably on this legislation that I would describe as tough, but fair and in the overall best interests of us all."