WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on the opening day of the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos addressed the Committee about the importance of protecting programs of vital importance to rural America. During the month of August, Bustos traveled more than 2,500 miles across the 17th Congressional District where she held more than 20 events to get input from hardworking families about what they wanted her to fight for in Washington. During several of these discussions with farmers, she repeatedly heard about the importance of protecting the federal crop insurance program, as well as funding for Rural Development and Conservation programs in the USDA which would be cut by the House version of the Farm Bill. Bustos also heard about the importance of making sure the Farm Bill doesn’t leave millions of hungry families out in the cold.
In her opening remarks at the beginning of the final Farm Bill negotiation, Bustos stressed the importance of working across the aisle to develop a bipartisan, non-controversial Farm Bill that strengthens the Heartland.
“Hardworking families across the heartland don’t want to see us having a big, drawn out partisan fight over the Farm Bill, they want us to come together and do something positive,” said Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. “I’m proud that several of my bills have been included in the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill to address the unique health care challenges rural America faces, make it easier for young farmers to put roots down and bring highspeed internet to small towns across our nation. It is my hope that in the coming days, we’ll be able to eliminate some of the more contentious provisions in the House version of the Farm Bill and deliver something that all Americans can be proud of.”
Several bills Congresswoman Bustos wrote have been included in the House and/or Senate versions of the Farm Bill, including:
- The Farmers of Tomorrow Act: If signed into law, this legislation would change regulations to make it easier for young farmers to buy land and put roots down. Specifically, with rising farmland real estate prices, this bill would modernize requirements so that more young farmers can access USDA loans. There’s a specific provision in here to ensure that more veterans have the opportunity to go into farming too. Congresswoman Bustos introduced this bill last December.
- The Rural Health Liaison Act: This would create a new rural health liaison at the USDA to improve coordination and funding mechanisms to improve the delivery of healthcare to rural America. The USDA continues to be on the frontlines in the battle against opioid addiction and the Rural Health Liaison would be in position to spread best practices across small town America to address this ongoing challenge. Additionally, the USDA has the ability to finance the construction of hospitals and the implementation of programs for telehealth and health education. The Rural Health Liaison would promote the awareness and availability of these resources, and provide guidance and technical assistance to USDA field offices and staff on how to best serve their communities. The Rural Health Liaison would also coordinate with other government agencies on rural health issues. Congresswoman Bustos introduced this bipartisan legislation in February.
- The Addiction Recovery for Rural Communities Act: This bill would help rural Americans better leverage USDA Rural Development programs to combat opioid and heroin use. Specifically, the legislation would set aside 20 percent of the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program grant funding for substance abuse treatment. It would also prioritize USDA Community and Facilities Direct Loan and Grant applications focused on substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services – which will help incentivize the establishment of new treatment centers. Finally, it will prioritize USDA Rural Health and Safety Education grant funding for applicants seeking to improve education and outreach on opioids and other substance abuse issues. Congresswoman Bustos introduced this legislation in July 2017 with Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly.
Bustos also helped lead The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Act, which seeks to close the digital divide by awarding grants for rural broadband projects. This language reflects Bustos efforts to bring high speed internet to the 23 million rural Americans without service through the Universal High-Speed Internet Better Deal proposal.
Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) announced her appointment to the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee this past July and then spent the month of August getting input from farmers across the 17th Congressional District. The Conference Committee, made up of a select group of House and Senate members, will merge the House and Senate versions of the bill into a final version. After the conference completes its work, the final version of the Farm Bill will be voted on in both chambers of Congress before going to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
In June, House Republicans passed a highly partisan Farm Bill without a single Democratic vote. Their bill would take way free school lunch programs from 265,000 households while taking food assistance away from one million households. It would also zero out Farm Bill funding for Rural Development and Conservation programs.
The Senate version of the Farm Bill does not include these controversial provisions – that’s why Congresswoman Bustos is working to achieve a final Farm Bill that is much closer to the Senate’ Farm Bill than the House Farm Bill.