Begich Secures Key Alaska Provisions in 2012 Farm Bill
Supports Alaska fishermen, rural communities, local farmers
Alaska communities and key industry groups will benefit from provisions included in the 2012 Farm Bill, which passed the U.S. Senate today by a vote of 64 to 35, with support from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich.
Formally called the Agriculture, Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, the bill includes support for communities and programs in rural Alaska, as well as assistance to fishermen devastated by natural disasters. The bill will reform the country’s agriculture programs, fund the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (previously known as food stamps), cut many direct farm subsidies, and create jobs in rural America. It saves an estimated $23 billion over the next 10 years.
Begich co-sponsored several Farm Bill amendments, including one by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) which will end an inequity in the law that denied Alaska fishermen access to federal assistance. The amendment allows shellfish and finfish harvesters to apply for disaster loans under the Emergency Disaster loan program in the USDA’s Farm Service Agency when hit by natural disasters, fluctuations in stock abundance, climatic changes and the weather. Begich also helped defeat a separate amendment that would have cut millions from seafood marketing assistance.
“Alaska’s fishermen have suffered their fair share of disasters and weather changes, especially since our weather is like no other. This puts our fishermen on a level playing field with other farmers who suffer losses from disasters and climate fluctuations,” Begich said. “I also was glad the Senate defeated proposed cuts to seafood marketing efforts, which help sell our Alaska seafood throughout the world.”
Begich also fought to ensure the Rural Alaska Village Grants (RAVG) program was reauthorized in the bill, so USDA Rural Development will continue to improve water and wastewater infrastructure in rural Alaska villages. Over the past three years, this program provided more than $100 million for these important public health projects. A separate amendment Begich co-sponsored created mandatory funding for rural development programs.
“Passage of the Farm Bill is positive news for Alaska and means expansive support for the development of our rural communities and small businesses in our state,” Begich said. “I also continue to believe the American people deserve to know who is receiving significant government dollars and am disappointed that my colleagues voted against bringing transparency to crop insurance subsidies.”
Begich and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a bipartisan amendment that would have required disclosure of those who receive premium subsidies from the $9 billion crop insurance program. Unlike most federal spending, there is currently no way of publicly tracking who gets the crop insurance subsidies. The Begich amendment would have added transparency to these subsidies. However, due to strong opposition from large farming operations, the amendment did not receive a vote. Sen. Begich will continue to fight for taxpayer’s right to know where their money is going.
Other Alaska provisions Begich supported include:
Labeling of genetically engineered food, including “Frankenfish” - Consumers have a right to know what they are eating. Many states, including Alaska, have passed laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods but are unable to enforce them without companion federal legislation. Unfortunately this amendment, co-sponsored by Begich, failed to pass the full Senate.
Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers program - This program helps reimburse Alaska and Hawaii farmers and producers for the millions of dollars in transportation costs associated with moving supplies and finished products to and from market. Begich also voted to protect funding for farmer’s markets and locally-grown food programs.
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
Rural Broadband Assistance –Begich is working with his colleagues to expand and improve rural telecommunications, by fighting off amendments attempting to cut funding from the Rural Utilities Service. Begich also voted against Senator Mark Warner’s (D-VA) rural broadband expansion amendment because it did not account for Alaska’s unique communications challenges. He has secured pledges to work on the issue further when the final Farm Bill is negotiated with the U.S. House.