KOHL VOTES TO ENACT FARM BILL CONFERENCE REPORT
Legislation Strengthens Safety Net for Dairy Producers, Key Nutrition Initiatives
Today, US Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, voted to enact the conference report of the Farm Bill. The legislation, titled The Food Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, passed in the Senate by a veto-proof, bipartisan margin of 81 to 15.
Senator Kohl lauded the long-anticipated final version of the legislation to improve the quality of life and economic vitality of Wisconsin rural communities, specifically citing its provisions to extend and strengthen the safety net for dairy producers, allow interstate commerce of state-inspected meat products, and implement much-needed reforms to the federal food stamp program and other key nutrition initiatives.
"Wisconsin is the nation's breadbasket. Every season farmers surmount tremendous challenges to provide food on the table for their families as they feed the nation," Kohl said. "With this legislation, Congress is putting our rural communities first and providing the means to greatly enhance the quality of life for people living throughout the Dairy State and the nation.
"I commend my colleagues for negotiating an agreement that once enacted will provide a better safety net for dairy producers in Wisconsin, will allow state-inspected meat plants run by smaller operations to sell their products in other states.
"The conference report also includes critical reforms to nutrition programs, beneficial land conservation provisions and the authorization of funds for affordable rural housing," Kohl continued.
Under the conference report, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program would be extended by five years and the payment rate for dairy farmers would be restored to its original level of 45 percent from its current level of 34 percent. Since its implementation six years ago, MILC has proven to be a critical backstop for thousands of family farmers when milk prices plummet. In addition, the legislation adds a new feature to the MILC program known as the "feed cost adjuster," which would factor in feed costs when triggering payments for farmers. The Farm Bill would increase the per farm cap on eligible production to 2.985 million pounds from 2.4 million pounds. The increase would allow dairy farms of about 165 cows to be fully covered compared 120 cows under current law. For Wisconsin, that means about 92 percent of all dairy operations in the state would be fully covered.
Senator Kohl helped establish the MILC program in 2002 to end regional fighting over federal milk pricing policies as an alternative to the Northeast Dairy Compact. Wisconsin dairy producers have benefited more than $400 million since Congress implemented the program.
This measure also moves forward in allowing interstate commerce in state-inspected meat products. Wisconsin has more state-inspected plants run by main street entrepreneurs than any other state in the nation. At a time of further proposed market concentration among major slaughter houses, this legislation will encourage smaller entrepreneurs to safely expand their markets and compete across state borders. Doing so will benefit livestock producers, consumers, and main street businesses.
The nutrition title incorporates urgently needed updates to the food stamp program, to be known hereafter as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Over the years low income households have suffered erosion of benefits due to inflation. The current minimum food stamp benefit has not been raised in over 30 years. This bill raises the minimum benefit and indexes it to inflation. It removes disincentives for retirement and education savings and takes child care costs into consideration when calculating eligibility. It strengthens support for food banks and will help get more fresh fruits and vegetables into our schools.
The Farm Bill conference report also includes the authorization of funds for the Housing Assistance Council. HAC is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the development of affordable rural housing. The Housing Assistance Council offers loans and technical support to local non-profit entities across the country to develop safe and affordable housing in rural communities. With nearly one fifth of the nation's population living in rural communities, and 7.5 million of that population living in poverty, decent affordable housing is in short supply. HAC provides the necessary tools to create and develop housing opportunities in areas of our country that are often overlooked.
Yesterday, the conference report was approved by the House of Representatives in a 318-106 vote. The legislation now goes to the President's desk.
Kohl said, "I urge the President to sign this critical legislation that will benefit American farmers and rural communities into law immediately."