The economic well-being of our nation is tied to the health of our rural economy. Rural communities also have unique needs – from housing and infrastructure to health care and broadband access often see disproportionate impacts from natural disasters, market volatility, and global pandemics like the coronavirus (COVID-19). We must ensure that we are giving rural communities the tools they need to spur innovation, create jobs and opportunities, and confront the challenges posed by crises like COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic affects every American no matter where they live, but now that it has been confirmed in many rural counties it has become clear that they are often less equipped to handle the consequences. Many rural hospitals and health systems have fewer ICU beds and resources to handle increased demand. Workers and students in rural areas struggle to do their jobs or attend classes remotely without reliable internet access. Agricultural producers are experiencing extreme price declines and challenges in getting their products to market.
The only way to beat this pandemic is to fight the virus together, and that means making sure that no community is left behind and that they all have the resources, support, and access they need to respond to and recover from this crisis. That’s why we need to take immediate action to respond to the pandemic’s spread to rural America by strengthening rural hospitals and rural health care systems, supporting farmers and ensuring the continuity of the agricultural supply chain, and helping small businesses, workers, and other critical aspects of the rural economy.
Supporting agricultural producers and the supply chain is critical because Minnesota's 68,000 farms represent a proud part of our state's heritage, history, and economy. We are the nation's fifth largest agricultural producing state, and our farmers contribute over $17 billion to Minnesota's economy each year. Minnesota's prosperity depends on supporting and strengthening our farms and rural communities throughout our state. That's why I sought a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. In 2008, 2014, and 2018, I worked to pass Farm Bills that strengthened Minnesota’s rural economy by ensuring that our farmers continue to have the support they need. The most recent Farm Bill was signed into law in December 2018 after passing the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 87–13.
Agriculture is cyclical in nature. Farmers make large capital investments in their crops, livestock, buildings, and equipment, and sometimes face heavy losses due to natural disasters and market circumstances beyond their control. Minnesota has experienced storms, drought, disease outbreaks, and flooding in recent years, all of which have cost our farmers and economy hundreds of millions of dollars. I am committed to maintaining a strong, fair safety net for Minnesota farmers to help them survive disasters and periods of low prices.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee I worked hard to craft a strong 2018 Farm Bill that built on the successes of the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, strengthened the safety net for Minnesota farmers and ranchers, invested in conservation programs, and supported homegrown energy. The Farm Bill gives our farmers and ranchers the support and certainty they need to grow and thrive. The bill is good for farmers, local economies, and taxpayers.
In the 2018 Farm Bill I worked to make sure that a strong safety net is in place to help Minnesota farmers and ranchers after weather disasters, and during periods of low prices and trade disruptions. I also worked to permanently authorize and provide $300 million in mandatory funding for a new animal disease and disaster response program and a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank to ensure that we are doing everything we can to prevent catastrophic animal disease outbreaks before they start. I successfully included an amendment to the bill that provides $625 million in mandatory funding for programs in the energy title, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Finally, I worked with my colleagues to increase the caps on Farm Service Agency loans so that farmers and ranchers have access to the land and capital necessary to help them succeed.
In the 2018 budget we made some much-needed improvements to the dairy program, including making milk a commodity eligible for the federal crop insurance program and reforming USDA’s Margin Protection Program (MPP) to reduce premiums costs for small and medium-sized farms and make it more responsive to market conditions. These were good first steps, and I worked to make additional changes in the 2018 Farm Bill to further improve the program for Minnesota’s dairy producers. The final bill included provisions to provide more coverage and more flexible tools for dairy farmers by allowing operations to cover margins up to $9.50 in the new Dairy Margin Coverage program. My energy title amendment also included a provision that allows each dairy operation that participated in the Margin Protection Program between 2014 and 2017 to receive a repayment of premiums paid over that time period as either a 50 percent direct refund or a 75 percent credit toward future premiums.
I also believe that farm-based, homegrown biofuels are critical to both our rural economies and our nation's energy security. Annually, ethanol production in Minnesota exceeds one billion gallons, supporting more than 18,000 jobs and contributing roughly $5 billion to our state's economy. And during periods when we have seen volatile gas prices, biofuels have helped reduce the cost for consumers at the pump by as much as $1.09 per gallon. As we continue our push to move our nation toward energy independence, we need to be supporting the farmers and workers of the Midwest, not the oil cartels of the Mideast. From traditional biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel to the next generation of cellulosic ethanol made from prairie grass to wind energy to electricity made from livestock waste, our farmers will play a key role in charting our new energy future.
Another area of critical importance for rural communities that I will continue to prioritize is broadband access. It’s something I’ve heard about in towns all across Minnesota where people share stories about how they need better broadband to pursue their careers, expand their business operations, and make sure their kids can succeed in school and continue to learn as schools have closed during the coronavirus pandemic. The 2018 Farm Bill included a provision I authored to promote precision agriculture and rural broadband deployment by identifying gaps in high-speed internet connectivity. Expanding broadband into townships and other rural areas is essential for creating jobs, expanding opportunity, and leveling the playing field during crisis situations.
Finally, rural America has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic as well as the recent increase in methamphetamine use. According to preliminary data, more than 68,000 people died from opioid and other drug overdoses across the country in 2018—including 607in Minnesota. On average, about 130 people die every day from an overdose involving an opioid and only about 1 in 10 people suffering from opioid addiction actually receive the treatment they need. We’ve made progress on taking on the epidemic by working together to pass landmark legislation I led with other senators in 2016 and an additional package of legislation that included three of my bipartisan bills in October 2018, but more needs to be done. I’m fighting for additional funds and resources to help communities that have been impacted by addiction.
As Minnesota's U.S. senator, I will continue to focus on these priorities:
- Meeting the needs of rural areas during the coronavirus pandemic. While many rural Americans are more vulnerable to the virus, they are also often less able to access treatment, and rural hospitals and health systems often have fewer ICU beds and resources to meet an increase in demand. Many rural health care providers are facing shortages of critical resources needed to confront the pandemic, including tests and protective equipment. We must ensure that rural hospitals and health care systems have the support that they need to respond to the pandemic and keep people safe.
At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic is straining the financial situation of farmers and our agricultural supply chain, as farmers are confronting market volatility, severe price declines, uncertain market opportunities, and a workforce squeezed by illness. While the CARES Act that became law in March 2020 included emergency relief for farmers who have experienced price losses – including livestock producers, dairy farmers, specialty crop growers, and producers who sell their commodities directly to farmers markets, schools, and restaurants – we must do more to help rural economies that have been hit hard by this crisis, including making sure that workers who support our agricultural supply chain at processing plants and throughout our economy have access to the testing and protective equipment that they need to stay safe at work.
- Preserving and strengthening the farm safety net. Farmers and farm communities need a strong and fair farm safety net to protect against extreme weather and market failures. The 2014 Farm Bill eliminated direct payments and worked to eliminate fraud and waste to ensure these programs are efficient and targeted. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I worked to maintain and strengthen the crop insurance program, continue the sugar program, create new risk management tools for dairy producers, and fully fund the permanent disaster programs for livestock producers. And during the current pandemic, I have worked to ensure that livestock producers and local and specialty food producers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools, and restaurants have had access to emergency resources to offset sharp commodity price declines.
- Shoring up the dairy program. Dairy farmers have faced significant financial stress due to low prices, stagnant export growth, and declining sales. That’s why I worked to fix the ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill. As low prices are expected to continue and many dairy farms are threatened with the prospect of needing to sell off their herds, it is critical that the Department of Agriculture work quickly to implement the dairy provisions from the 2018 Farm Bill in order to provide immediate relief. I also supported fixes in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 to the MPP and provisions that provided a pathway to new insurance tools for dairy farmers. During the current pandemic, dairy producers have seen significant declines in both cash prices for dairy commodities and in dairy futures markets. I have urged the Department of Agriculture to make price loss payments to dairy producers and purchase surplus dairy products for donation to food banks and federal nutrition programs. While some aid and commodity purchases were announced through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), price declines and financial stress in the supply chain continue. That’s why I am working to provide additional tools and aid to help dairy producers weather the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
- Preventing catastrophic disease outbreaks. In 2015 an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) claimed nine million turkeys at 110 farms in 23 Minnesota counties. In Minnesota alone the economic damage has been estimated at over $640 million. This outbreak showed us that we need to be doing everything we can to prevent catastrophic disease outbreaks before they start, and if we do have an outbreak, we need to be prepared. That means putting in place resources to regularly check and test animals, strengthening relationships among states and the federal government, businesses, and universities to provide rapid detection and response capabilities, and investing in the infrastructure necessary to protect against and respond to diseases that could have severe impacts on the livestock industry. That is why I introduced the Animal Disease and Disaster Prevention, Surveillance, and Rapid Response Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The final provisions created a new Animal Disease and Disaster Response Program and a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) bank that will help protect Minnesota farmers against the next disease outbreak.
- Additional reform of federal farm payments. The 2008 Farm Bill contained important reforms to the farm payment system that I helped lead, including an income cap on eligibility for commodity payments. In the 2014 Farm Bill, we made additional reforms aimed at ensuring that payments are focused on our family farmers. In these times of low prices and export market uncertainty, I will continue working to make sure that federal support goes to our beginning farmers who are often struggling to keep the farm or get a start in farming. The 2014 Farm Bill also included two of my amendments to help beginning farmers and ranchers by reducing the cost of accessing crop insurance and eliminating the penalty for beginning ranchers who graze livestock on CRP acres.
- Conserving our natural resources. Conservation programs in the Farm Bill provide the tools for farmers and ranchers in Minnesota to conserve sensitive lands and promote farming practices that reduce soil erosion and improve air and water quality. Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the top states in the country for conservation program enrollment. The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined and protected the important conservation programs Minnesota producers use to keep our soil healthy and our water clean. The livelihood of farmers depends on clean water and healthy soils and that is why in the 2018 Farm Bill I worked to increase the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 27 million acres, authored a provision to reduce the incentives to convert native sod to crop production by closing a loophole that allows certain crops to circumvent the “Sodsaver” rules, and included a mandated reporting requirement on USDA conservation data, which will allow farmers to better assess how conservation practices can improve soil health and reduce risk. These provisions will help ensure that our natural resources are protected for the next generation of Minnesotans.
- Ensuring that the nutrition needs of our most vulnerable citizens are met. During the height of the economic downturn, the USDA nutrition program served as a lifeline for over 500,000 Minnesotans. I want to ensure that this vital safety net, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is in place to provide meaningful relief to Minnesotans when it is most needed, including during the coronavirus pandemic. School nutrition programs help introduce children to new fruits and vegetables, providing healthy foods while also fostering healthier eating habits that can last a lifetime. I support farmers’ markets and other opportunities for farmers to market their products directly to Minnesotans in local restaurants and stores. I also support maintaining the nutrition title as part of the Farm Bill, because everyone benefits when we reconnect to the farmers in our communities that provide us safe, nutritious, and affordable food. The coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences have put more families and children at risk of food insecurity, which is why I worked to pass the CARES Act, which was signed into law in March 2020 and which included additional funding to help ensure that nutrition programs can meet an increase in demand during the pandemic.
- Opening markets for Minnesota producers. Exports are critical to the U.S. economy. In 2017, Minnesota exported over $7 billion worth of agricultural products. From 2000 to 2016, Minnesota’s total agricultural exports grew by 226 percent – higher than the national growth of 163 percent and supporting more than 57,000 jobs both on and off the farm. As the former chair of the Senate subcommittee on export promotion, I believe we need to be doing everything we can to help American farmers sell more of their products in foreign markets. Exports are key to the success of our beef, pork, and turkey producers, and I will do everything I can to assist them in breaking down export barriers. I will continue to work to keep existing markets open, support fair trade agreements, and create new opportunities for Minnesota producers. I supported the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on trade since, with the additionally negotiated pro-labor and environmental changes, as well as the elimination of a provision that would have benefitted pharmaceutical companies at the expense of consumers, I felt the agreement provided much needed stability and economic opportunity for American farmers, producers, and consumers. A North American trading bloc is also an essential strategy to competing with China on a global scale.
- Providing incentives for homegrown energy. Homegrown energy production can reduce our dependence on foreign oil while bringing jobs to our rural communities. In order to expand our homegrown energy technologies and supplies, it is important for investors to have a stable, reliable set of economic guidelines. That’s why I’m fighting to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and continue to push back against any effort by the Administration to weaken the RFS – including the granting of multiple refinery waivers, some of which were granted to multi-billion-dollar oil companies. During the coronavirus pandemic, demand for fuel has decreased, and many renewable energy plants in Minnesota and across the Midwest have idled production or closed down completely. I am working to provide assistance to the biofuel industry and its workforce so that they can continue operating safely through these market disruptions and continue providing rural jobs and market opportunities for farmers.
- Focusing on the unique needs of rural communities, including infrastructure, housing, rural health care, and the expansion of technology. For our rural producers and businesses to stay competitive in a global marketplace, we need the infrastructure that gives them access to foreign consumers. Any national infrastructure proposal must take into account the unique needs of rural communities. Broadband and high-tech advancements allow producers to sell their crops and livestock at better prices, reduce fuel and input materials to protect the environment, and provide new business and education opportunities for rural communities. We must also ensure that policy proposals for housing and health care, as well as additional coronavirus relief measures, reflect rural America’s specific needs.
As Minnesota's U.S. senator, I've been fighting to keep our farms and rural communities strong and to keep our state a leader in homegrown energy:
- Improving the farm safety net and providing emergency steps to protect farmers. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked to strengthen the crop insurance program and helped provide greater protection for our dairy farmers from excessive market volatility in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills. I will continue my efforts to ensure these programs work for our farmers in times of price volatility, including during the coronavirus pandemic. I also successfully fought to extend the commodity programs in the 2008, 2014, and 2018 Farm Bills and to rebalance these programs to be more equitable to northern crops such as wheat, barley, and canola. In addition, I introduced the bipartisan Family Farmer Relief Act with Senator Chuck Grassley, which was signed into law in 2019. As bankruptcy rates among American farmers approach record highs, this law will help farmers keep their farms, reorganize their businesses, and repay their debts. And as farmers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, I have urged the Department of Agriculture to make price loss payments to farmers and purchase surplus commodities for donation to food banks and federal nutrition programs. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) that was announced in April 2020 will provide $19 billion in relief for our farmers, food supply chain, and families in need, including funding for livestock producers, row crop producers, specialty crops, and purchases of surplus commodities to be donated to food banks serving families in need. As price declines and financial stress in the supply chain continue, I have called on the Department of Agriculture to provide adequate and equitable access to farm credit, and I am working to ensure that our farmers have the resources they need to continue producing the food, feed, fiber, and energy we all rely upon.
- Improving the dairy program. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I worked to fix the ongoing difficulties with the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers. Dairy farmers are facing low prices, stagnant export growth, and declining sales that threaten their operations. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 included provisions to fix problems within the MPP and provided a pathway to new insurance tools for dairy farmers. In September 2017 I led a congressional letter to Secretary Perdue asking that he take steps to make milk an agricultural commodity eligible for crop insurance, and the budget deal in early 2018 included provisions to remove the arbitrary cap on dairy insurance and to allow for innovative new risk management tools for dairy farmers.
The 2018 Farm Bill also included provisions to provide more coverage and more flexible tools for dairy farmers by allowing operations to cover margins up to $9.50 in the new Dairy Margin Coverage program. My energy title amendment also included a provision that allows each dairy operation that participated in the Margin Protection Program between 2014 and 2017 to receive a repayment of premiums paid over that time period as either a 50 percent direct refund or a 75 percent credit toward future premiums. As low prices are expected to continue and many dairy farms are threatened with the prospect of needing to sell off their herds, it is critical that the Department of Agriculture work quickly to implement the dairy provisions from the 2018 Farm Bill in order to provide immediate relief.
As dairy producers have experienced sharp declines in both cash prices for dairy commodities and in dairy futures markets since the coronavirus pandemic began, I have worked to ensure that dairy producers had access to dedicated disaster funding from the CARES Act and called on the Department of Agriculture to distribute that funding in an equitable way through direct payments and dairy product purchases for donation to food banks.
- Providing permanent disaster assistance for farmers. In recent years Minnesota farmers have experienced losses in the millions as a result of weather disasters and disease outbreaks. I worked to secure the first-ever permanent livestock disaster assistance program in the 2008 Farm Bill. A permanent program means that it doesn’t take an act of Congress for farmers to get relief each time disaster strikes - help will be there when farmers need it. Since 2008 this program has helped Minnesota farmers recover nearly $100 million in crop losses caused by disasters, and has provided support for Minnesota's poultry and livestock producers that experience millions of dollars in losses each year due to extreme weather. In the 2014 Farm Bill, I fought to ensure that the disaster programs for our livestock producers were fully funded. During the avian influenza outbreak in 2015, I worked hard to ensure that our farmers had the assistance they needed to deal with the crisis and recover. I introduced the Animal Disease and Disaster Prevention, Surveillance, and Rapid Response Act, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The final provisions created a new Animal Disease and Disaster Response Program and a Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) bank that will help protect Minnesota farmers against the next disease outbreak.
- Ensuring Minnesota's leadership in the next generation of biofuels. I took the lead on efforts in the Senate Agriculture Committee to move the nation toward the next generation of biofuels - cellulosic ethanol made from dedicated energy crops like prairie grass and alfalfa, as well as from agricultural residues and wood chips. Working with former Senators Tom Harkin of Iowa and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, I authored the Farm-to-Fuel Investment Act, which was included in the Energy Title of the 2008 Farm Bill. The bill offers incentives to farmers to grow dedicated energy crops on marginal farmland. In the 2014 Farm Bill, I worked to include a strong energy title to expand homegrown renewable energy production. I authored an amendment that was included in the bill to provide an additional $100 million for the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program to help farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses lower their energy bills by installing renewable and energy efficient technologies. In the 2018 Farm Bill, I again included an amendment that will make critical investments for many of the programs in the energy title, including REAP, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, and the Biobased Markets Program or “Bio-Preferred”.
- Developing homegrown, farm-based energy. I have pushed to make ethanol and biodiesel more readily available to American consumers at the gas pump. I cosponsored the Energy Independence and Security Act, which included provisions to install ethanol and biodiesel pumps in gas stations across the country. In addition, my Right to Retail Renewable Fuels amendment to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is helping to ensure that new fuels can come to market by preventing oil companies from using their market power to stop gas stations from selling renewable fuels. I have also pushed hard to maintain a strong Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) that will help drive innovation and boost Minnesota’s economy while reducing our dependence on foreign oil. In 2014 and 2015, the EPA proposed changes to the RFS that would hurt the biofuels industry by lowering the biofuels targets, discouraging investment, and hurting jobs in rural communities across the country. I led bipartisan meetings of Senators with former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to urge the Obama Administration to reverse the changes and maintain a strong RFS. And I have long led bipartisan efforts with Senator Chuck Grassley calling for a strong RFS. These efforts have led to final rules that have increased overall renewable fuel volume requirements. I also advocated for Minnesota to receive funds to expand biofuel infrastructure. In 2016, Minnesota received $8 million in federal funding to install blender pumps for biofuels at fueling stations. The investment will boost local economies across Minnesota, give drivers more choices at the pump and reduce dependence on foreign oil. I have also strongly supported the EPA’s rulemaking process to lift the restriction on the sale of E15 during the summertime driving season and have called on the Administration to cease issuing multiple and improper refinery exemptions, including some to multi-billion-dollar oil companies. As demand for fuel has decreased during the coronavirus pandemic, many renewable energy plants in Minnesota and across the Midwest have idled production or closed down completely, meaning laid off workers and halted purchases of feedstocks like corn, soybeans, and sorghum. That’s why I am working to provide assistance to the biofuel industry and its rural workforce so that they can continue operating safely through these market disruptions and continue providing rural jobs and market opportunities for farmers.
- Improving Access and Analysis of Conservation Data. I introduced legislation that was modified and included in the 2018 Farm Bill with Senator Thune of South Dakota to direct the USDA to collect, collate, integrate, and link data relating to the impacts of conservation practices on enhancing crop yields, improving soil health, reducing risk, and improving profitability. Our bill would establish a secure conservation and farm productivity data warehouse, as well as procedures to protect the integrity and confidentiality of proprietary producer data. The resulting research and analysis will be disseminated to producers in a manner that makes it easy for them to utilize the information to enhance conservation benefits and increase profitability. The final 2018 Farm Bill directed the Secretary to identify the available data sets within USDA regarding the use of conservation practices and report on their effect on farm and ranch profitability.
- Conserving our natural resources. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I worked to streamline the conservation programs in the 2014 Farm Bill. I supported efforts to create a compromise on conservation compliance that would extend conservation protections to the crop insurance program and worked to ensure that a ”Sodsaver” provision to protect native prairie was included in the bill. I introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the sod saver provision nationwide and remove loopholes in the program. I continue to fight against cuts to conservation programs, and to ensure that savings from these programs are reinvested in programs that have been successful in Minnesota like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. I supported increasing the number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to 27 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill and creating a pilot program to study innovative approaches to improve soil health and carbon sequestration.
- Supporting broadband deployment and new technology. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and as a co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, I have been a champion for rural broadband. I believe connecting rural areas will provide increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities. I have worked with Senator Thune of South Dakota to call on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize rules intended to ensure that Americans in rural areas have access to affordable broadband services. With the support of 59 senators, we successfully pressured the FCC to update these rules in March 2016 In February 2018, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act that I introduced with Senators Thune and Tester was signed into law. The bill directs the FCC to establish basic quality standards for providers that transmit voice calls to help ensure businesses, families, and emergency responders can count on phone calls being completed. As agriculture increasingly relies on precision technology, we need to give farmers and ranchers the tools they need to take advantage of new technologies and improve their businesses, reduce costs, and improve crop yields. That’s why I joined Senator Wicker to introduce the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act to identify gaps in coverage and encourage broadband deployment on farms and ranchland. Our legislation was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Precision agriculture technology will help farmers boost yields and be more environmentally efficient but only if they have access to reliable broadband. The 2018 Omnibus Budget Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018, contained an additional $600 million for dedicated broadband funding as well as my bills to encourage wireless carriers to work with rural or smaller carriers to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities and to cut red tape by ensuring that states coordinate highway construction projects with broadband providers so that broadband infrastructure can be installed at the same time—known as “dig once.” I also introduced the bipartisan Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act, legislation to require the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a study of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy, which passed the Senate in June 2019. In March 2020, legislation that I introduced with Senators Wicker, Peters, and Thune – the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act – was signed into law. This legislation will improve the FCC’s broadband data collection process to create more accurate broadband coverage maps and help ensure that the funds for broadband deployment go to the communities that need it most. Finally, as access to high-speed internet has become even more critical during the coronavirus pandemic with more people working from home and schools closed, I introduced legislation with Senator Cramer of North Dakota to help broadband providers continue to provide internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in rural areas during the pandemic.
- Supporting infrastructure plans that help rural communities. As a member of the Commerce and Agriculture committees, I have long supported leveraging both direct funding and public-private partnerships to rebuild and reinvest in our infrastructure. One bipartisan idea I’ve been working on is to create an infrastructure bank that would help increase private sector infrastructure spending. It would also direct funding to projects in rural areas so that smaller communities can make much-needed infrastructure improvements. This type of innovative financing tool could jumpstart critical projects in Minnesota and across the country. But we can’t rely on public-private partnerships alone to fund projects. Direct federal funding is essential, especially in rural America, where federal dollars help maintain and upgrade infrastructure that attracts investment and helps communities stay competitive. I have also pushed to ensure financing mechanisms stay in place that help rural communities upgrade aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.
- Increasing rural development and providing a rural safety net. Rural communities face unique economic needs, and we must ensure we give them the tools they need to thrive. That’s why I have fought to include core programs in the Farm Bill that provide vital support for building and maintaining wastewater facilities, loan guarantees, and grants for rural business and manufacturers to grow and expand. I have also fought for funding for rural housing, including funding for the rural rental assistance program, rural housing construction funding, and loans for elderly homeowners for home repairs and improvements that remove health and safety hazards. I have worked to make health care more accessible in rural Minnesota by supporting critical access hospitals, proposals to bring down rural health insurance rates with cost sharing reductions and reinsurance, and leading the successful effort to extend the Conrad 30 program that allows international doctors trained in the United States to extend their stay in the country if they agree to practice in underserved communities. I also led several bipartisan bills to bring down the costs of prescription drugs. Finally, rural America has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic and a recent rise in the use of methamphetamine. That’s why I led the effort to pass landmark bipartisan legislation in 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which encourages states and local communities to pursue a full array of proven strategies in the fight against addiction, including expanding access to naloxone among law enforcement and other first responders. I have also introduced the CARA 2.0 Act with a bipartisan group of senators to build on the momentum of CARA by increasing funding and putting in place additional policy reforms to combat the opioid epidemic. The 2018 Omnibus Budget Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018, contained over $3 billion in additional funding. I will continue fighting for additional funds and resources to help communities combat addiction.
- Improving our nutrition programs. The Farm Bill provides a strong safety net through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. In 2008, 2014, and 2018, I pushed for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which helps introduce children to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as programs that fund the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables for school lunches. I also helped lead the passage of the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in 2010, to overhaul the major domestic food assistance programs that serve the nutritional needs of 29 million American children each day. I worked with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2016, which would preserve these important reforms while giving local school districts the flexibility they need to continue feeding our kids. In addition, with many children out of school and taking classes remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, I worked to include additional funding for the Department of Agriculture’s child nutrition programs in the CARES Act to help ensure that children continue receiving meals even while they’re staying home from school.
- Increasing agricultural exports. I favor doing all we can to make it easier to assist our farmers and rural communities in exporting products, including raw and processed agricultural commodities and other manufactured goods. I have worked to ensure that we have a functional export-import bank and fair trade agreements. I lead the bill to lift the embargo with Cuba. I also have worked with a bipartisan group of senators to make market access for U.S. agriculture producers a priority in the resolution of non-tariff trade barriers meant to discriminate against U.S. products and for the favorable treatment of U.S. agriculture products in trade agreements with other countries. I successfully fought to pressure China to reopen its markets to American pork, beef, and poultry products. I have also pushed Japan to reopen its market to U.S. beef and led a bipartisan group of senators in calling on South Africa and South Korea to address non-scientific trade barriers that are limiting our turkey exports. In November 2017, I led a letter with Representative Emmer to the President urging him to consider the impact that a reduction in engagement with South Korea would have on Minnesota’s farmers. South Korea is the 5th largest market for Minnesota agricultural exports by total value.
- Addressing Rail Issues. As I travel across Minnesota, I continue to hear from agricultural producers who are experiencing rail service delays, including backlogs on orders for rail cars and shipping delays once cars are loaded with cargo. The results are lost sales, involuntary shutdowns at processing facilities, and disruption to agriculture markets. Reliable and affordable rail service is critical for providing our agriculture producers access to markets beyond our state’s borders. Overall, the U.S. exported almost $140 billion in farm products in 2017. As the fourth largest agricultural exporting state in the country, Minnesota contributes substantially to these export numbers. We must be sure we have the transportation networks to get our agricultural exports to our trading partners. That’s why Senator Thune and I have asked the USDA to conduct a comprehensive economic analysis on the impact rail service challenges are having on agricultural producers, crop prices, basis levels, agricultural exports, food prices, and other agricultural end users including food processors, livestock producers, and ethanol refiners. And as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, I pushed railroad companies to address these service delays. I also successfully urged the Surface Transportation Board to collect additional data on rail performance to increase transparency and improve service. I introduced the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act to remove the railroad industry’s obsolete exemption from the antitrust laws. This will require the railroad industry to play by the same antitrust rules as other industries. More competitive pricing for "captive shippers" with access to only one rail company will help ensure that farmers and rural businesses can move their products as quickly and affordably as possible.
- Cutting red tape and giving a voice to farmers. I believe that if more people with a farming background were included in the decision-making process for new federal policies, we might avoid some of the regulations that have justifiably frustrated farmers in Minnesota and across the nation. I have fought hard to protect farmers from burdensome regulations, such as proposals to treat milk the same as oil when requiring spill prevention plans, to regulate dust on farm roads and driveways, or to obtain multiple identification numbers to participate in voluntary conservation programs. I introduced the Representation for Farmers Act to ensure that American farmers are represented in the decision-making process for environmental policies and regulations that would affect U.S. agriculture, and I successfully fought to include similar language in the 2014 Farm Bill. To improve access to USDA’s voluntary conservation programs, I introduced a bill with Republican Senator John Boozman from Arkansas that would remove burdensome annual reporting requirements for farmers who want to improve conservation practices on their farms. The bill was included in the 2018 omnibus appropriations act.
- A simpler and fairer tax treatment for agriculture equipment. Putting money back in the pockets of our farmers and ranchers enables them to promote economic growth and strengthen our rural communities. In 2015, I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Roberts of Kansas that would help farmers purchase new equipment and replace worn-out machinery by amending the U.S. tax code to permanently set a five-year depreciation schedule for certain agricultural equipment. Changing the depreciation schedule to five years would make the tax code more consistent and aid rural development by increasing farm income by over $850 million a year, while helping farmers and ranchers finance new equipment and replace worn-out machinery. This provision was signed into law in December 2017. I continue to support measures that will help farmers and ranchers invest and grow, including extending expensing and depreciation tax provisions, which would allow businesses to write-off the cost of investments in new property and equipment.