Today's passage of the Farm Bill means taxpayers will save billions of dollars, Alaskans will find relief from big government bureaucracy, rural communities will have safer drinking water, and thousands of Alaskans will still be able to feed their families, said U.S. Senator Mark Begich, who championed several Alaska provisions in the legislation.
The Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, better known as the Farm Bill, will save taxpayers $23 billion over five years while protecting the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from devastating cuts included in earlier versions. The Farm Bill sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. It was developed through the collaborative work of a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee.
"This bill slashes wasteful subsidies, saves taxpayers billions of dollars and moves us closer to eliminating the deficit," Begich said. "This bill will mean more jobs for Alaskans through investments in infrastructure that will lead to a better quality of life in Alaska rural communities. Because of deep cuts to wasteful spending in the federal budget we can invest in key construction projects that will strengthen local economies."
Begich championed several Alaska provisions in the bill including:
Federal funding for the Village Safe Water Program: Known as the Rural Alaska Village Grants (RAVG), this program, administered by USDA Rural Development, helps Alaska Native and rural villages improve their water and wastewater infrastructure. Over the past three years, this program provided over $100 million for these important public health projects. Begich supports the program and worked hard to protect and improve it while the Farm Bill was still in committee.
Traditional Foods in Food Service Programs: Allows for traditional foods to be donated, prepared, consumed and incorporated into food service programs in federally funded facilities that primarily serve Native Americans including: residential child care facilities, child nutrition programs, hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and senior meal programs.
Forest Roads: The Farm Bill clarifies the Clean Water Act to return oversight of runoff from logging and forest restoration efforts back to state-based forest practice laws. The provision, supported by the 12,000-member strong Society of American Foresters, the National Association of Forest Owners and the Alaska Forest Association, assures forestry professionals and landowners that they will be able to manage forest roads according to state-based forest practice laws, developed over decades, rather than contending with continued litigation and the potential for individual Clean Water Act permits for individual projects, which would have been expensive and difficult to implement
Restores Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) Funding: Ensures rural communities receive financial compensation through payments to local governments on Department of Interior lands. PILT funds help support critical local services like road maintenance, education and fire rescue operations. With Alaska's large percentage of federal lands, PILT help fund approximately $26 million annually for communities across the state to help with local needs.
Other Alaska provisions Begich supports include:
Funds SNAP Benefits: Maintains crucial SNAP funding while including measures to prevent fraud and abuse. The Farm Bill saves roughly $8 billion over ten years in the SNAP program through reductions and abuse prevention. The bill will provide aid to the neediest Americans while helping to stop abuse by preventing lottery recipients from receiving SNAP benefits.
Eliminates Direct Payments for Farm Subsidies: The bill saves tax dollars by eliminating wasteful direct payments to farmers whether they farm or not, which costs U.S. tax payers approximately $4.5 billion per year.
Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program: This program helps reimburse Alaska farmers and producers for the millions of dollars in transportation costs associated with moving supplies and finished products to and from market.
Regional Equity Program: This program assures Alaska receives its fair share of funding from conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Conservation programs help protect soil and water resources and help extend the growing season through the use of high tunnels, also known as hoop houses.