(BIVN) – It’s not often that Hawaiʻi Island gets to hear directly from top United States Cabinet officials when major legislation gets a vote in Washington D.C., but that’s what happened on Wednesday as Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue took questions on the passage of the 2019 Farm Bill.
Congress passed the $867 billion bill after the House of Representatives today approved the conference report on the bill by a vote of 386-to-47.
The day before, the U.S. Senate passed the legislation with a 87-to-13 vote.
“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords,” said Secretary Perdue in a written statement. “This Farm Bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports. While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities. I commend Congress for bringing the Farm Bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it.”
Secretary Perdue was on the Big Island this week, and this morning he delivered a keynote address during the 2018 Winter Meeting of the Western Governors’ Association at the Fairmont Orchid. Governors asked Perdue about the Farm Bill during a question and answer session after his talk.
Hawaiʻi Senator Mazie Hirono (D) provided her own analysis of the bill on Tuesday when it passed her chamber of Congress. Sen. Hirono focused on how the bill prioritizes macadamia tree research (in particular, combating the invasive macadamia felted coccid), provides up to $4 million in grants for Hawaiʻi to promote locally grown food, and reauthorizes USDA education grants for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian serving institutions.
“Today’s vote brings much needed federal resources to combat the macadamia felted coccid, which has been ravaging our $46 million macadamia industry for over a decade,” Senator Hirono said in a media release. “This strong bipartisan agreement also protects needy families from painful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and supports many programs that are critical to Hawaii farmers and growers. I urge the House to pass this legislation and for the president to sign it as quickly as possible.”
Sen. Hirono also hailed these Hawaiʻi priorities which she says she fought to protect and include in the Senate Farm Bill:
- Reauthorizing the USDA’s Education Grants for Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions. These grants are provided to eligible Hawaii and Alaska educational institutions which serve Native Hawaiian or Alaska Native students for the purpose of helping with educational needs as they relate to food and agricultural sciences.
- Protecting current benefits for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This program provides assistance for more than 42 million participants nationwide—including 163,000 individuals from 83,000 households in Hawaii.
- Reauthorizing The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). This program provides federal resources to support low-income individuals and households with fresh food through local food banks.
- Promoting Industrial Hemp. The bill includes provisions of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, a bill that Senator Hirono cosponsored, which promotes the development of industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity. The University of Hawaii as well as the Hawaii Department of Agriculture have been exploring the potential for industrial hemp production in Hawaii.
- Reauthorizing and Providing Mandatory Funding for Organic Research and Extension. The bill includes permanent, mandatory funding for organic research, makes much-needed improvements to the organic certification process, and provides assistance to farmers that want to transition to organic food production.
- Reauthorizing the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). The bill renews funding for SCRI through 2023. Competitive funding from SCRI can be used by research organizations and institutions like the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to conduct research on specialty crops such as floriculture, fruits, nuts, and coffee.
- Reauthorizing and Maintaining Funding for Conservation Programs. The bill reauthorizes a number of conservation programs through 2023, including the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
- Maintaining Mandatory Funding for Rural Energy Programs. Energy costs have a major impact on farmers, particularly in Hawaii, where we pay some of the highest energy costs in the nation. The bill renews funding for Farm Bill energy programs like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses install renewable energy systems and improve energy efficiency.
UPDATE: Hawaiʻi Rep. Tulsi Gabbard issued a media release on today’s House vote. “The Farm Bill that passed today was a bipartisan compromise that provides certainty for working families, empowers small and sustainable farms, and expands agricultural opportunities for Hawai‘i and across the country,” Rep. Gabbard said. “This legislation protects food stamp funding that nearly 170,000 of our keiki, kūpuna, veterans and working families across Hawai’i rely on. It also invests in agricultural and rural development, conservation efforts to protect our air, land, and water, clean energy programs, and assistance for veteran, indigenous, and low-income farmers. This bill has finally opened the door for industrial hemp — a domestic industry that already has a market value of roughly $620 million in the U.S. per year — creating great opportunity for sustainable jobs across many sectors. I successfully secured much-needed research and development funding to help Hawai‘i farmers fight back against the macadamia felted coccid that has destroyed farms and threatened the livelihoods of dozens of communities, especially on Hawai‘i Island.”