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Hyde-Smith works to improve farm bill

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks at 'Farmers for Cindy' campaign event. Photo by News Mississippi

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, committed to continuing to work on improving farm bill legislation approved by the Senate with strong bipartisan support.

On Thursday the Senate voted 86-11 to approve the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (HR.2), a budget-neutral farm bill that sets agricultural and a nutrition policies through 2023.  The Senate bill will now be referred to a joint conference committee to reconcile differences between the Senate bill and a House-passed farm bill.

“Senate passage of the farm bill is an important step toward reaching a final agreement on improving federal agriculture policies and programs.  Writing the best bill possible is critical because agriculture is the backbone of Mississippi’s economy,” said Hyde-Smith, the former Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce.

She said the Senate bill is not perfect, but it is budget neutral and it does address the challenges facing farmers, ranchers, and agri-business

“I will continue to work with Chairman Pat Roberts and my colleagues on this bill,” said Hyde-Smith. “I am optimistic we can agree on a final package that is fiscally responsible and positive for the agriculture community.”

During the Senate debate on the bill, Hyde-Smith worked to negotiate amendments to the measure.  In addition to offering amendments, Hyde-Smith cosponsored amendments offered by Senators John Kennedy and Ted Cruz to strengthen work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.

The Senate tabled the Kennedy-Cruz amendment to fight fraud and abuse of SNAP assistance by establishing photo and work requirements on able-bodied adults without dependents.

“I’m disappointed SNAP work requirement amendments were not accepted, but improving integrity of this program is certain to be a major issue to resolve before we can send the President a bill to sign into law,” Hyde-Smith said.

For Mississippi, the bill also includes items championed by Hyde-Smith in the bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee on June 13th.  For example, the Senate-approved farm bill:

  • Reauthorizes the important Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program at current levels and maintains the provision allowing cotton to be eligible for PLC enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018.  No harmful changes to producer eligibility or program level support are included in the legislation.
  • Supports strong conservation programs used by Mississippi producers and landowners, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, the Farmable Wetland Program, and other programs.
  • Reauthorizes the Delta Regional Authority and the Delta Health Care Services grant program, in addition to programs to assist rural communities with water and waste disposal systems.
  • Strengthens rural broadband and telemedicine services for rural America.
  • Supports ongoing agriculture research programs involving Mississippi universities and land grant institutions.
  • Authorizes new timber and forestry initiatives important to the Mississippi timber industry and private landowners.

The Senate bill also retains four Hyde-Smith amendments included in the bill at the committee level.  These changes, which have no direct spending impact on the cost of the bill, would:

  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer 150 acres around Okhissa Lake in Franklin County to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance for rural economic development;
  • Direct the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to conduct research and development on more affordable crop insurance policies for farmers within the Lower Mississippi Valley affected by frequent flooding;
  • Amend the USDA research title to make chronic wasting disease a high-priority research focus within land-grant extension services;
  • Reauthorize the Healthy Forests Reserve Program to help landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest ecosystems in order to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, and improve biodiversity.  The 2014 farm bill authorized $12 million in discretionary funding annually, subject to appropriations, FY2014-2018.  This amendment extends authorization through 2023.

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