U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow rallies support for food stamps, passage of 2013 Farm Bill in Kalamazoo

August 21, 2013

Source: MLive.com
Author: Ursula Zerilli

KALAMAZOO, MI – Signs at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market showing that vendors accept government-assisted cash were on display as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., visited the market on Tuesday.

Stabenow has been traveling the state visiting farmers markets this week to tout the 2013 Farm Bill. After visiting Hop Head Farms on Tuesday morning, she met with local food access activists and toured the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market.

The passage of the farm bill isn’t being held up by farm issues; instead, lawmakers are grappling with how the bill changes federal food stamp programs.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow on the 2013 Farm Bill
Sen. Debbie Stabenow is promoting the Senate-passed 2013 Farm Bill in Michigan this week. Stabenow spoke about the bill at the Kalamazoo Farmers' Market on Aug. 20 and said she is confident it will be passed, despite political setbacks, this fall.

“There’s a tremendous amount of politics going on in the House of Representatives right now,” Stabenow said. “Their bill will play politics with food assistance and cut 6 million off of getting temporary help when they are out of work and would at the same time not help us get a farm bill done.”

A Senate-passed, five-year farm bill would trim around 3 percent, or about $2 billion a year, from the $80 billion-a-year federal food stamp program and let states impose new work requirements on those who receive them. The bill also strengthens crop insurance and provides disaster relief for produce growers. Overall, Stabenow’s Farm Bill would cut and streamline programs to reduce the deficit by $24 billion, she said.

The bill was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives in June due to concerns regarding the food stamp cuts in the bill. In July, the House passed a bill that dropped the food stamps, and reduced the cost of the farm bill from $100 billion a year to about $20 billion a year, according to the AP.

Stabenow is visiting farmers markets to promote locally grown food and the need for the food stamp program. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, if every household spent $10 dollars per week on locally grown food it would generate nearly $40 million in economic activity in Michigan.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Kalamazoo State Rep. Sean McCann at the Kalamazoo Farmers' Market on Aug. 20.

Chris Broadbent, Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market Manager said Stabenow privately met with about 25 food and agricultural–focused individuals on Tuesday to discuss the farm bill and the importance of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, of which one in seven Americans use.

Broadbent said the Kalamazoo Farmers Market sold $45,000 worth of food to people using SNAP and Michigan EBT Double Up Food Bucks program in the 2013 season.

“That’s a lot of money and when people use it here, the money goes to our local farmers and stays nearby. We have 110 businesses that participate in our food system and farmers market and I think Sen. Stabenow was here today to recognize our growth.”

Rose Scobey, of Scobey’s Produce, said she’d hate to see the federal government cut the SNAP program because it helps people who don’t have access and “we all need good food.”

Stabenow said she was confident the bill will be passed this year. Lawmakers have a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a bill, but Stabenow said she wouldn’t be surprised if that deadline was pushed back.

“It may slip into October, but we will get it done,” Stabenow said. “We have many things in the bill that make it worth passing. We are making major changes to help farmers markets and conservation with major new effort to protect the Great Lakes. We added something called bio-base manufacturing to create jobs and help us stop using petroleum for plastics and let us use food by-products to help get us off of foreign oil. The bottom line is every community is benefited from rural development, so we need to get the farm bill done.”

Stabenow said she was also confident that the Christmas tree commodity checkoff program, dubbed the “Christmas tree tax” in 2009, would be included in the farm bill.

The USDA originally approved the checkoff program in November 2011, but immediately put it on hold for political reasons.  Nearly a year-and-a-half later the tree industry has lost 20 percent in sales, primarily to artificial trees imported from China a grower survey shows.

“I’m glad she was here today because if she’s writing the farm bill, she ought to be meeting with farmers,” said Joseph Battistella, a 25-year-old farmer at Sunshine Silo in Leonidas Township. “I do wish we could have heard more about her stances on genetically-modified food because I think it’s getting overrun by money and it’s not being talked about enough.”

First posted on MLive.com on August 20, 2013. Ursula Zerilli covers business for Mlive.com/Kalamazoo Gazette. Email her at uzerilli@mlive.com or follow her on Twitter.