Oregon lawmakers react to farm bill passage

Most elements draw favor; food stamp cuts upset Merkley

Merkley, McLane farm bill reaction

WASHINGTON - Oregon's federal and state lawmakers offered mostly positive reaction to a $1 trillion farm bill that easily passed in Senate Tuesday afternoon, sending it to President Obama's desk for his signature.

Portions of the bill offer energy-cost savings, dropping the price of insurance on organic produce,and more funding for specialty crop grants. The bill also reauthorizes disaster relief dollars for ranchers and farmers suffering losses after forest fires or droughts.

NewsChannel 21 talked to Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who said passing the bill was critical for Oregon farmers, ranchers and the state's rural communities.

However, the new law also brings an $8 billion cut to food stamps, and Merkley says that means Oregonians will receive about $60 a month less in SNAP benefits.

"We are cutting programs at a time of record inequality in our nation, and yes, they will hurt families in Oregon, some of these core programs that simply put food on the table," Merkley said.

However, the bill does expand aid to community food banks.

NewsChannel 21 also talked to state Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, by Skype from Salem, where the Legislature has begun its 5-week special session.

The House Republican leader said the farm bill is desperately needed, because of how importamt agriculture is to Oregon, specifically to its exports.

"We want to make sure that those inspections that are needed to ship products over to Asia are done, and that means that the Department of Agriculture has to do its job," McLane said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.,applauded the final passage of the farm bill and commended Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow for moving the legislation forward.   

"Chairwoman Stabenow did a remarkable job of showing how it's still possible to get things done in Washington," Wyden said. "The farm bill provides certainty and a strong safety net for the agricultural community for the next five years."

The Agricultural Act of 2014 includes several key provisions backed by Wyden, including a Wyden-authored farm-to-school provision that will establish a competitive pilot program with up to eight demonstration projects, each representing a different region of the country, including one from the Pacific Northwest.

He said the demonstration projects will help schools source healthy, local fruits and vegetable for the breakfasts, lunches or snacks served to students. Recognizing the growing obesity epidemic among U.S. children, the American Academy of Pediatrics previously supported this provision, citing its effective approach to supporting child nutrition.

Another provision will make $9 million in annual grant funding available to help gleaners, who collect food that would otherwise be thrown away and donate it to food banks or other institutions that deliver food directly to those in need.  Over 34 million tons of food was wasted nationwide in 2010.

Wyden also authored a provision that reaffirms the determination by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Supreme Court that forest roads and other silviculture activities are not open to more litigation over water discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.

The senator said that will provide the certainty the timber industry needs to keep the forestry jobs that are so crucial to rural Oregon. By ending litigation over questions that have already been answered, it allows federal agencies, conservation groups and timber companies to get back to work on improving the management of our federal forests.

Wyden said the bill also includes a provision that provides one year of full funding for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides critical funding to more than 1,900 counties in 49 states and territories, making up for diminished tax revenues stemming from federal ownership of land within county boundaries.

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