Begich Convinces Colleagues to Add Alaska Priorities to Farm Bill
Senator’s Provisions to be Included in Final Bill set for Senate Vote Soon
New legislation poised to pass the Senate as soon as this week will slash wasteful subsidies, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and prevent the federal government from pushing new, unnecessary regulations onto Alaska, U.S. Senator Mark Begich said today. Several Begich priorities, including one that recognizes the nutritional and cultural value of Alaska Native subsistence traditions, are part of the newly negotiated Farm Bill
“This bill will mean more jobs for Alaskans and a better quality of life for Alaska rural communities,” Begich said. “Because of deep cuts to wasteful spending in the federal budget we can invest in key construction projects that will strengthen local economies.”
The Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, better known as the Farm Bill, sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The bill is a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill that was developed through the collaborative work of a bipartisan House and Senate conference committee. The House is expected to take up the bill on Wednesday, with the Senate following a few days later.
Specific provisions included by Begich in the bill include:
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 – Extends one year’s worth of payments to local governments in lieu of taxes on Department of Interior lands. With Alaska’s large percentage of federal lands, this amounts to approximately $26 million annually for communities across the state to help with local needs.
Other Alaska provisions Begich supports include:
Funds Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (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.
Posted: January 30, 2014