Trump Budget Would Deeply Damage Rural America

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Trump Budget Would Deeply Damage Rural America

 

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

 

As it works to shape the next five-year farm bill that Congress is supposed to approve in 2018, the Minnesota Farmers Union has been doing an extensive, ongoing survey of what the state’s farming community thinks needs to be addressed in that bill.

It conducted 14 Rural Issues Discussions around the state this past spring and into the summer. It has also been conducting what it calls Rural Voices Discussions that will continue into 2018.

From those discussions it is developing a comprehensive list of needs of farmers and rural communities that will become a part of their lobbying agenda in both St. Paul and Washington, D.C. Every state legislator will be made aware of the needs of farmers and told how the state can help. Members of Congress will get the same message, but geared at federal assistance.

A well-financed public relations campaign will spread the word to the media about what farmers need to remain financially healthy so that they can continue to provide the nation with a cheap food supply. As the public is informed, it will also convey the message to elected leaders on what rural Minnesota’s needs are.

This is FarmFest week at the Gilfillan Estate 7 miles southeast of Redwood Falls. Among the forums scheduled for the three-day event is a discussion about the 2018 farm bill with U.S. House Ag Committee Chair Rep. Michael Conway, R-TX, and Ranking Member U.S. District 7 Rep. Collin Peterson, D-MN.

So far here is how MFU’s agenda for input into the next farm bill is coming together as provided to the state’s media Monday:
- Ensure an adequate safety net for farmers, including crop insurance that allows farmers to stay in farming operations;
- Include local foods and beginning farmer programs;
- Set up affordable, accessible health care as a family farmer safety net;
- Provide easier land access for young farmers and veterans and help with succession planning for retiring farmers;
- Increase credit and access to capital and operating loans;
- Include a safety net for produce and organic farmers similar to crop insurance for corn, beans  and wheat;
- Crop insurance for commodity crops must continue with no budget cuts; and crop insurance for specialist crops must be created with additional funding;
- Increase visibility and research of renewable fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic and solar;
- Farmer-owned grain reserves may help with prices;
- Cancel funding cuts in the USDA and closing of local offices;
- Fix problems with the dairy supply management program;
- Fund more Farm Advocates to address and support farmers facing crises;
- Fund more organic specialty farmers;
- Support women and minority beginning farmers, including subsidies and crop insurance;
- Address cheap food policy impacting prices;
- Address country-of-origin labeling (COOL);
- Broadband high-speed internet development and implementation for all rural areas is essential;
- Animal disease insurance is needed to help protect farmers against possible outbreaks of animal diseases;
- Rural development and infrastructure funding must be included;
- Recognize that low crop prices, high input costs and the high costs of health care have created a crisis in rural America;
- The general public needs to be better educated on how the federal Farm Bill helps all communities;
- SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, must continue to serve increasing needs in rural and urban communities without budget cuts that would be passed on down to the states as expenses.

As can be expected, it is an agenda that is heavy on the needs of farmers with a few mentions of issues that will have a deep impact on all of rural Minnesota if the Trump Administration is allowed to gut the United States Department of Agriculture’s budget as currently planned.

Trump’s budget would slash $1 billion from the rural development budget next year. USDA programs that finance water treatment plants, rural hospital construction projects, mortgage guarantees, water treatment and waste management projects, job training, economic development, and broadband and electrical infrastructure projects would take an $855 million hit.

Those cuts don’t include the nearly $700 million that would come from cutting salaries and expenses also tied to shutting down the Rural Development arm of USDA.

Trump’s people say that private financial institutions can pick up the financing of projects. Reductions in burdensome rules and regulations will help communities save money making up for some of the cuts in rural assistance.

We very much doubt that private financial entities are going to offer the very low interest rates and very long terms that USDA has provided. We also have little faith that we are going to see even remote financial benefits of cutting rules and regulations.

What we do believe is that Trump’s budget cuts will hit rural America hard at time when it is already struggling with low commodity prices and a dwindling population.

The stability of rural America relies on farmers doing well and having the federal government support them when tough times come along. But rural America’s health also relies on the programs offered through USDA Rural Development.

For a president who won an election based on strong rural support he is proposing policies deeply damaging to those areas while loading his cabinet with Wall Street executives and proposing big tax cuts for the wealthy.

We are fortunate to have Rep. Collin Peterson serving us in Congress. There are few, if any, members of Congress more knowledgeable about the importance of USDA’s programs that support farmers and farm communities.

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