Wednesday Roundup: Rural Development Passes the Senate

Senate version of the Farm Bill now has rural development funding • House Republicans raise subsidies for rural airports • Institutional money managers will benefit from crop insurance provisions.

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The Senate voted Tuesday to include funding for rural development programs in the 2012 Farm Bill.

The Senate voted 55 to 44 to adopt Sen. Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) amendment that would include $150 million in rural development funding. The Senate bill had contained no money for rural development for the first time since 1996.

The vote was along party lines. The only Democrat to vote against Brown’s amendment was Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who is facing a tough re-election bid. 

Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Sen.Dean Heller of Nevada and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine were the Republicans who voted for the rural development funding.

Rural development programs receive annual appropriations and through the Farm Bill. Both have been dropping over the last decade. Since 2003, rural development funding (not including housing) has been cut by a third, from $947.7 million in 2003 to $637.6 million in 2012. If those amounts are adjusted for inflation, the decline has been nearly 50 percent. 

Since 1996, farm bills have averaged $413 million in funding for rural development programs, so even with Brown’s amendment, rural development funding continues to decline.

The House version of the Farm Bill isn’t complete, but observers expect that it will zero out rural development funding. The House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill must be reconciled.

The Senate voted on a number of amendments to the Farm Bill yesterday. The Senate voted to retain $4.5 billion savings in the Food Stamp program (over ten years), but rejected proposals to further tighten eligibility.

The Senate voted down a move to end mandatory compulsory checkoffs (vote was 20 to 79) offered by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint. (Checkoffs are fees collected by commodity groups with the proceeds used to promote the commodity.)

Chris Clayton is keeping the best account of the amendments and you can find his DTN story here

Debate will continue today on amendments. The Washington Post notes that several amendments to be discussed have nothing to do with the contents of the bill. 

For example, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Barbara Boxer of California have an amendment that would require food labels to say whether the products contain any genetically modified ingredients.

There are two amendments on aerial inspections of ag facilities by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sen. Boxer would allow them. Sen. Mike Johanns would ban them. 

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida wants to allow employers to give merit-based pay increases to workers without seeking permission from unions.

• Who will benefit from the new program in the Farm Bill that would subsidize crop insurance for U.S. farmers? 

The Financial Times finds that institutional money managers “have emerged as unlikely beneficiaries of a subsidised safety net for US farmers set for expansion by Washington.” The $90 billion (over ten years) crop insurance program that is a key component of the Farm Bill is leading money managers to see U.S. farmland as a good place for investment. As a result, farmland prices have continued to increase.

Under the crop insurance program, the government pays about 60 percent of the premium that covers poor yields or low prices.

“I don’t know of any other business where you can insure 90 per cent of your P and L,” said an adviser to large farmland investors. “There’s a lot more understanding in the institutional world about this than you might think”.

• Thirteen House Democrats have introduced legislation that would place a moratorium on new or expanded mountain top removal coal mines in Appalachian states. It’s called the Appalachian Communities Health Emergency Act.

The legislation would put a hold on any new mountaintop removal mining until questions are answered about potential health risks. Recent studies have found health problems (cancer and birth defects) in areas where there are mountaintop removal mines.

Sponsors of the bill include Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Michael Honda (D-CA), James Moran (D-VA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), John Conyers (D-MI), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Keith Ellison (D-MN).

• House Republicans, meanwhile, have increased subsidies for small airports to record levels, according to the Associated Press.

The House Appropriations Committee has increased the subsidy for small airports 11 percent, to $214 million, in a bill the committee approved Tuesday. 

House conservatives have been anxious to cut government spending, but not in this case. “Last year, the House voted to eliminate the program in the lower 48 states by 2013,” the AP reports. “But rural tea party lawmakers like Reps. Rick Berg, R-N.D., and Kristi Noem, R-S.D., were among those who fought to save it.” 

• There’s a report here on how the Edison School in Yoder, Colorado, is using technology in big ways ways. Sarah Butrymowicz writes in The Hechinger Report: 

(Fourth and Fifth grade teacher Paul) Frank and administrators in the two-school district, located an hour east of Colorado Springs in Yoder, Colo., have big technological ambitions. They want to infuse technology into every bit of the curriculum, from using iPods to help elementary students practice reading to mandating that high-school seniors take a computer-science course to graduate.

It’s not about improving test scores — last year, every single one of Edison’s elementary students was deemed proficient on the state’s math exam. Instead, the goal is to expand the students’ horizons and prepare them for college and the workplace, where technological literacy will be assumed.

 

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