Senator Heitkamp: "Bipartisan Senate farm bill prioritizes Indian Country"

Senator Heidi Heitkamp with visitors from the MHA Nation and Standing Rock. Flickr

Bill includes senator’s provisions to make nutrition assistance, rural dev. funds more accessible to Native communities

News Release

Office of Senator Heidi Heitkamp

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, today announced that the bipartisan U.S. Senate Farm Bill – which passed out of Committee last week – includes several provisions she fought for to support Indian Country.

Heitkamp introduced the Tribal Food and Housing Security Act in March, one of a series of bills she introduced to influence the Farm Bill. She fought to include in the Senate Farm Bill her provisions to make nutrition assistance more accessible in Indian Country, provide rural development support for Native American communities, and offer greater certainty for the current Tribal Promise Zone designees.

The priorities of Native communities have too often been overlooked in conversations about the Farm Bill. Heitkamp worked with North Dakota’s tribal communities and the Native Farm Bill Coalition to write and negotiate a Farm Bill that better meets the needs of Indian Country.

“Indian Country faces a unique set of challenges to access rural economic development and nutrition programs – and the Farm Bill is an opportunity to address them,” Heitkamp said. “Native communities deserve a seat at the table as the Farm Bill is being debated, and I’m proud to have successfully included several provisions that will help level the playing field for tribes and give them tools to expand economic opportunity and care for those in need. The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill includes many wins for North Dakota, and I specifically worked with tribal communities to write and include provisions that support nutrition assistance and economic development where it’s needed the most. As the Farm Bill is debated in the full Senate, I’ll continue to fight to make sure Indian Country remains a key part of this bill.”

Douglas Yankton, Sr., Vice Chairperson and Crow Hill District Representative of the Spirit Lake Nation Tribal Council, said, “Senator Heitkamp’s amendment to the Farm Bill will give Spirit Lake Nation the ability to more easily provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and children who are at risk of going hungry. There’s nothing more important than making sure children and at-risk individuals are taken care of – and when budgets are strained, that becomes even more difficult. We appreciate her bipartisan efforts to get this important provision included in the Senate Farm Bill, and her commitment to prioritizing Native American communities as the bill advances in Congress.”

Specifically, Heitkamp worked to include provisions in the bipartisan Farm Bill that would:

· Make nutrition assistance more accessible in Indian Country. The Farm Bill includes a provision from Heitkamp’s Tribal Food and Housing Security Act to help tribes like Spirit Lake provide nutrition assistance to low-income households and children who are at risk of going hungry. This provision would waive most or all of the match requirement for administrative costs to run the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) programs, which many tribes use to provide healthy, affordable food options to low-income individuals and families. In Fiscal Year 2016, there were 5,661 participants receiving nutrition assistance from the FDPIR on North Dakota tribal lands.

· Support rural Native American communities. Heitkamp successfully included an amendment to establish a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office to provide technical assistance across all areas of rural development funding. The provision, part of her Tribal Food and Housing Security Act to ensure Native American communities are supported in the 2018 Farm Bill, would support rural business and community development, housing, rural infrastructure like electric and telecommunications services, and rural hospitals and health care.

· Provide greater certainty for the current Tribal Promise Zone designees, including the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe. Heitkamp successfully added this provision, which was part of the CROPS for Indian Country Act that she cosponsored, during markup to ensure that four Tribal Promise Zones continue to have access to resources and technical assistance from federal agency partners.

Additionally, last week Heitkamp cosponsored legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) to provide tribes with the authority to administer SNAP, which they currently are not able to directly manage. Allowing tribes to take over these functions from the federal government will improve efficiency, reduce regulatory burdens, and support tribal self-governance and self-determination. Heitkamp will work to include this legislation and additional provisions to support Indian Country in the Farm Bill when it is debated in the full Senate.

BACKGROUND

In the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill, Heitkamp successfully fought to maintain a strong farm safety net and disaster assistance programs and worked to incorporate many of her specific proposals, including her provisions to reform the ARC-County Program, help young and beginning farmers start their careers, boost nutrition assistance programs and strengthen economic development in Indian Country, provide resources to combat farm stress and prevent suicide, and give farmers greater access to sell their goods in Cuba.

The provisions she fought for came about after spending years talking with farmers and ranchers about their priorities, including holding Farm Bill tours across the state in 2016 and 2017 after she helped write, negotiate, and pass the 2014 Farm Bill. The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote on and pass the bill by early July. The Senate will then stay in session through August, and Heitkamp hopes the House decides to keep working that month as well, so Congress can reach an agreement and pass Farm Bill by the deadline on September 30.

Additional provisions Heitkamp successfully worked to include the bipartisan 2018 Senate Farm Bill:

· Her bill to fix to the ARC-County Program to help farmers when commodity prices fall to damaging levels. Heitkamp introduced her bipartisan bill with U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) in October 2017. It specifically responds to concerns from North Dakotans and would direct the Farm Service Agency to use the more widely-available data from the Risk Management Agency as the first choice in yield calculations so that county level data is more accurate and updated, calculate safety net payments so they reflect what’s owed to producers in the physical counties where their farms are located, and make payments more accurate. The bill builds on Heitkamp’s successful effort from 2015 when she got the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow farmers whose land is across multiple counties to have their ARC-CO payments recalculated so those payments reflect what’s owed to them in the physical counties where their farms are located.

· Her Next Generation in Agriculture Act to provide funding and reform programs that help young and beginning farmers and ranchers enter and remain in the industry, build the next generation of farmers, and feed the country and the world. Heitkamp introduced her bipartisan bill with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) earlier this year. It would provide permanent funding for beginning farmer and rancher training programs, create a permanent National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator and Agricultural Youth Coordinator at the USDA, direct state USDA offices to designate an employee as the state beginning farmer and rancher coordinator, and establish a next generation agriculture technology challenge competition. The average age of a farmer in North Dakota is 57 years old, according to USDA, and the percentage of new farmers has declined since 1982. Heitkamp’s bill would help cultivate the next generation of farmers and support rural economies.

· Her priority to protect and expand crop insurance. Crop insurance is a critical part of the farm safety net, and Heitkamp has been fighting to protect it so farmers have the certainty they need to get through tough times. Heitkamp worked to make sure the 2018 Farm Bill would improve access to crop insurance for veterans, beginning farmers, and fruit and vegetable growers, and she fought against the administration’s proposed cuts to crop insurance.

· Her priority to expand export opportunities for North Dakota agriculture producers. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside the U.S., Heitkamp has been fighting to protect and expand export promotion programs to help North Dakota farmers sell to the world. She fought to make sure the Farm Bill would expand USDA programs to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.

· Her amendment to boost trade with Cuba. Heitkamp and Boozman successfully included their bipartisan amendment to use its existing export market development programs to create, expand, and maintain a strong Cuban export market for U.S. agricultural producers and processors— at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers. This change in USDA policy would provide some needed relief from low American commodity prices by fostering a new, reliable trade relationship, boosting agricultural export revenue, and increasing export volume for American farmers and ranchers. This builds on Heitkamp’s efforts to boost trade with Cuba going back to 2015, when she first introduced legislation to lift the ban on private banks and companies offering credit for agricultural exports to Cuba.

· Her provision to support a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank. Heitkamp fought to secure funding in the Farm Bill for a new National Animal Disease Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Program, as well as National Animal and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank, with a priority put on foot-and-mouth disease. The threat of disease is a constant threat over a rancher’s operations, and the need for a rapid response system is crucial for our food system to be able to address any outbreaks of disease such as foot and mouth. This vaccine bank will help protect North Dakota’s livestock industry and our national food system.

· Her proposal to help farmers and ranchers in crisis. Heitkamp secured support for state departments of agriculture, state extension services, and non-profits to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, create support groups, and reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. These provisions were included in the bipartisan FARMERS FIRST Act, which Heitkamp helped introduce in April, to address a study which found agricultural workers have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation.

In addition to her work on the Farm Bill, Heitkamp has been successfully fighting to improve disaster assistance programs for North Dakota farmers and ranchers. Earlier this year, her bill to improve disaster assistance to livestock and honeybee producers by permanently removing the funding cap for the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) was signed into law.

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