The Farm Bill is a critical piece of legislation that shapes agriculture and food policy. It impacts everything from commodity programs and farm credit, to rural development and food and nutrition programs. This bill influences the future of American farmers and our rural economy, those who produce our food and supply many of the goods and resources we rely on as a country. It is important that we have a Farm Bill in place that benefits farmers and the rural economy, especially when rural America has seen a 52% drop in net farm income over the past five years.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I’ve worked side-by-side with Chairman Conaway to ensure the 2018 Farm Bill upholds programs that truly make a difference in our agriculture sector, while making necessary changes to other areas, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to lift people out of poverty and offer a path toward a successful future.
There are many challenges facing the agricultural sector. As a farmer, I know the inherent risks that come with this business and the many obstacles farmers face. The 2018 Farm Bill enhances and protects the crop insurance program that farmers and their lenders count on to manage the risk of disasters, while also encouraging the private sector to create innovative new insurance products.
I want those in the First District of Kentucky, and across the nation, who are starting out as farmers to have the tools necessary to flourish in the industry. To ensure that these tools are available and accessible, the 2018 Farm Bill provides funding for agricultural education and outreach programs to prepare the next generation of farmers. In addition, it improves upon non-land grant programs that benefit schools like Murray State University. The bill also creates a new Agricultural Youth Organization Coordinator at USDA, which will be important in working with groups preparing young folks for careers in agriculture.
I also have high hopes for the future of SNAP given the work the Agriculture Committee has done to propose constructive and empowering work requirements that are balanced with a strong investment in proven tactics to assist recipients in climbing the economic ladder. Under this bill, able-bodied adults will be required to work or participate in job-training programs at least part-time as a condition of receiving SNAP benefits. Individuals with disabilities, those 60 and older, the primary care-giver of a child under six, and pregnant mothers would be exempt from the requirement. We want to help Americans carve out successful futures to help them obtain a job that provides meaningful income and a chance to improve their future.
One problem I hear repeatedly from businesses in the First District is that they cannot find workers to fill open positions. There are more than six million open jobs in our country right now and Kentucky has more than 400,000 able-bodied adults receiving SNAP benefits. Of these able-bodied Kentuckians, 71% are not working. Our goal is to bridge the gap and find a way to help more of these unemployed or underemployed individuals get the skills they need to find employment.
It’s worth noting that the last time unemployment in our country was this low (3.9%) was in 2000 – we had 17 million people on SNAP at that time. Today, we have more than 41 million people on SNAP. Our economy is supporting more jobs and a higher standard of living for all Americans, and we want SNAP recipients to take advantage of this favorable economic climate.
This is how we can change the outlook for those who are in poverty - by giving them a chance to gain skills, create income, and become self-sufficient. After states like Kansas and Maine implemented work requirements for food stamps, new workers didn’t just go back to work in low-wage jobs, they found employment in over 600 industries, including construction, manufacturing, and nursing. Enrollees went back to work and their incomes more than doubled, and their time on welfare was cut in half.
We need to define success differently – not by how many people we serve, but rather how many people we aid in climbing the economic ladder and closing the jobs gap. Advocating for the status quo isn’t going to lift anyone out of poverty. That’s why I’m committed to working with my colleagues to pass a Farm Bill that offers solutions to addressing poverty in this nation, while also preserving and strengthening programs important to our farmers.
Rep. James Comer is a United States Congressman for the First Congressional District, which spans from south central Kentucky to the river counties of far western Kentucky. Contact him with any questions or concerns in his Washington D.C. office at (202) 225-3115, in the Tompkinsville Office at (270) 487-9509, in the Paducah Office at (270) 408-1865, or schedule an appointment in the Madisonville Office by calling (270) 487-9509.