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Wolf Talks Pa. Farm Bill, Casey Urges Against SNAP Cuts at Ag Progress Days

by on August 14, 2019 10:32 PM

In 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf spoke at Penn State's Ag Progress Days and unveiled a six-point plan for strengthening agriculture in commonwealth. On Wednesday, he returned to discuss how part of that plan has been put in place with the first Pennsylvania Farm Bill.

Speaking at the annual government and industry luncheon during the three-day agricultural expo at Rock Springs, Wolf noted that the bill — which adds $23 million to new and refunded programs — was met with bipartisan support in the General Assembly and signed into law in June.

"Everybody in Pennsylvania understands the importance of agriculture," Wolf said. 'The people of Pennsylvania understand how central farming is to their lives, so they want the best for you because that’s what’s best for them."

The first component of the bill launched in July, with the Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant program now accepting applications for $500,000 in investments for new agricultural opportunities in urban areas. Another grant program for agriculture and youth development is designed to interest young people “in all the entrepreneurial and innovative possibilities of agriculture,” Wolf said.

Aimed at helping current and future generations thrive, the Agricultural Business Development Center funded by the bill will be a resource for farmers in creating business and succession planning, marketing and other needs. The bill also incentivizes transfer of preserved farmland to beginning farmers through a realty transfer tax exemption. 

"The whole point of this effort is to make farming all that we need and to inspire future generations of Pennsylvania farmers," Wolf said.

Other aspects of the bill include incentives for processing expansion, financial and technical assistance for conservation programs and block grants for investments of priority crops such as hemp, hops, and hardwoods. It also created the $4 million Pennsylvania Rapid Response Disaster Readiness Account, which is meant to quickly address agricultural disasters such as plant or animal disease, foodborne illness, or invasive pests like the spotted lanternfly, which has the potential to wreak havoc on various agricultural industries in Pennsylvania.

Not everything in Wolf's plan is in the farm bill. Rural broadband internet expansion is one of those and is a part of Wolf's sweeping $4.5 billion proposed infrastructure plan, Restore Pennsylvania. That would be funded by a proposed severance tax on natural gas production in the commonwealth. It would not replace the impact fee drillers currently pay and which is distributed to counties for different projects.

"Farmers need fast reliable internet connections so they can access global markets for sales, supplies, see forecasts and research and stay in touch with the experts," Wolf said. "When we have a reasonable severance tax on top of the impact fee... it will allow us to do things like bring broadband to every corner of Pennsylvania."

Casey Praises Federal Farm Bill, Opposes Efforts to Cut SNAP

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey applauded the work of Pennsylvania's farmers, whom he praised for their "integrity and character," in providing jobs and feeding people around the country despite the challenges they face. He also lauded the bipartisan work of the federal Farm Bill, which was reauthorized by Congress and signed into law last December by President Donald Trump.

"It’s a bipartisan bill that will provide a strong safety net for farmers, a bill that supports and enhances critical conservation programs, other programs like crop insurance, research, organic programs, nutrition, trade programs — all so important to the agriculture here in Pennsylvania and around the country," Casey said.

Casey called the bill "a moment of great bipartisanship" and said that spirit needs to continue in its implementation. While approving the bill, the House and Senate came to a consensus not to cut funding for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program previously called food stamps, which is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. Casey asked those in attendance to join him in opposing Trump administration efforts to cut the food assistance program.

About 3 million people could lose SNAP benefits under a new rule proposed by the administration last month. One in seven Pennsylvanians, about 1.8 million residents, receive SNAP benefits, Casey said, and about 200,000 could be cut from the program by the new rule.

"This is a critically important program for the people of Pennsylvania," he said. "We all benefit because you spend a buck on SNAP and you get a lot more than a buck back. By some estimates, according to Moody’s Analytics, you spend a buck to get $1.70 back. So we all benefit from that, not just those who get that critical nutrition and food service."

Under the proposed rule, about 500,000 children would lose automatic eligibility for free school lunches, Casey said.

"We need your voices on this," Casey said to agricultural leaders at the luncheon. "If you can figure out a way in your own way to make that point, that would be an enormous benefit to the economy of Pennsylvania and our nation and also make sure we’re not tearing away that assistance from children and families."

After the event, Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, whose 12th District includes the State College area and Penns Valley, said coming from a poor background as a child he understands the importance of nutrition assistance for families, but chided Casey for his remarks about SNAP.

"We’re going to make sure our children aren’t going hungry and that families have the resources to feed their families," Keller said. "But quite frankly I was a little disappointed that Senator Casey tried turning this meeting into a political forum rather than recognizing the good work that is done by all the people in this building today. Quite frankly I think he should be called out on that. That’s the reason things don’t get done in government, because you have people like Senator Casey who take advantage of an opportunity to come together and work on solutions and make it a partisan issue."

Casey later said he believes if Keller takes a close look at the issue, "maybe we’ll be on the same page."

"I wish he’d get on the phone with the [U.S.] Secretary of Agriculture and say 'Don’t cut the SNAP program because it brings a great benefit to Pennsylvania," Casey said. "We don’t want to support a policy that takes school meals eligibility from 500,000 in the United States of America. There’s no reason for it. There’s no fiscal reason for it and there’s no policy reason for it. I hope Rep. Keller will join me in standing up for the children of our state and the children of our country."

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey speaks at Penn State's Ag Progress Days on Aug. 14, 2019. Photo by Geoff Rushton



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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