Washington, D.C. – U.S. Kirsten Gillibrand released the following opening statement on the Farm Bill for today’s Agriculture Committee Mark-Up:
“Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, for your leadership. Thank you, Ranking Member Roberts, for your leadership. Both of your dedication and extraordinary hard work has led us up to today. I do appreciate the great work you did in terms of including some of my amendments in the Manager’s Package. I am particularly grateful for the investment in rural broadband that will make a huge economic engine available for all of rural America. I think including the Healthy Food Initiative will make sure that fewer food deserts exist in our country, that kids can have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. I was very grateful for the crop insurance for fruits and vegetables. We obviously needed to reform that, and I think the way you did that really will make a difference, so farmers don’t lose everything if they have a catastrophic storm.
“And I do appreciate the investments you’ve made in terms of trying to help long-term dairy reform. I think the transparency that you’ve added, both for cold storage and for voting rights, is really important and will help to reform that industry. I also think that the transition you’ve provided, to allow a better, safer and a more reasonable transition between now and the implementation of the current draft of the dairy title is not only wise, but extremely helpful, so, I appreciate those areas.
“I’ve been traveling all across New York State since I’ve been in the Senate, over the last three years, and I’ve listened intently to my farmers. I’ve listened intently to all those in ag industries, and those who are so committed to making sure our children get the food they need to be healthy. And I know that this farm bill is much more than a set of esoteric numbers. It’s very much about the decisions we are making towards economic growth, towards our agriculture industries, and the moral obligation we have to our families that are at risk. So as we move forward in this debate, there’s two issues I just want to highlight because I feel so strongly about them and I have some significant concerns.
“First of all, under this current draft, families in New York will lose about $45 a month in their food stamps, which means the third week of the month, many families’ children will go to school hungry, and that’s a high concern for me as a mother. Now, not every state has the population that New York State has. We have twenty million people in our state. That means under this draft bill, 300,000 families are going to be affected. That’s 300,000 families that may be more food insecure now than they were before. And that means less food on a kitchen table for children. And so I have very grave concerns about what that says about us, and what we’re going to do for it.
“I want to bring three issues up about food stamps. First, it is such an extraordinary investment. For every dollar that you put into the SNAP program, you get out $1.79. That is a statistic from the USDA. Second, there is so little fraud in food stamps. It’s less than 1 percent. One cent for every dollar. This is not a place where people are taking advantage, it’s a place where families need these resources. And, third, as a mother, our children need food to grow. It is the most simple, elemental thing that a family must provide for their children. They need food to grow, they need food to learn, and they need food to reach their God-given potential.
“So I urge my colleagues who are looking for places where we need to tighten our belts. Please, do not ask that of hungry children. It is the one place we should not be tightening a belt. These are children who need this food. I’ve been to food pantries, I’ve been to food banks, I’ve been to soup kitchens, and I can tell you: they say that the increase is with families with children. And so, when we are looking at these balancing issues, we should be making the choice to increase our investment in food stamps. With every bit of belt tightening we do, and we are all very proud of the fact that this bill is doing deficit reduction, I urge you: this is the one place we should not increase our cuts. For every Senator who has an amendment to increase cuts, this is the wrong priority for America and it’s the wrong priority for our future.
“The second issue I care a lot about is the future of dairy in this country. New York is the number three producer of dairy in the nation. We have had historic losses over the last decade. Hundreds of dairy farms are going out of business every year. Over 25 percent in the last several years have been lost in New York State, because of our policies and because of the volatility in the market. Agricultural inputs, like feed and fuel, keep rising, but safety nets have not been preserved.
“And so the concern I have with this current dairy title is very simple. Right now, we are asking if you want to have a safety net, you have to cap your production. Now, many of us share this concern about capping production because we want to export our dairy, so we don’t love capping production. And so, if you’re going to have a safety net, you have to cap your production. That’s concern number one.
“Concern number two: if you are a small dairy, these payments are expensive, thousands of dollars a year to have this safety net. And the return under this new revised program will be less than it’s been before. So, MILC has been inadequate, largely because MILC has never been indexed to inflation. It’s never kept up with the cost of production, the cost of feed, the cost of fuel. And so now we’re taking a new program that will reduce the amount of money that will go to small dairies even if they agree to cap their production and buy this new insurance program.
“So I’m very worried about more small farms going out of business. I’m very worried about what happens to America if we consolidate milk production. Once you consolidate an industry, the next step is outsourcing. I don’t ever want to have to buy my milk from China. I want milk produced in America, and so I think, from a national security perspective, we should be making sure we have good, wholesome food production in all parts of the country.
“So Madam Chairwoman, I look forward to working with you on these issues. I know that we’re going to continue to work through them with some other amendments, and perhaps on the floor, but I did want you to know where my concerns lay.”