Ensuring Rural Arkansas Receives the Support it Needs
When the House of Representatives unveiled its short-term funding bill, key priorities were inexplicably left out.
I should stress from the outset that governing by short-term extensions is far from a preferable option. Congress should pass individual funding bills each year to avoid the chronic budget uncertainty that makes it difficult to plan ahead. This is the best way to reduce government spending, balance our budget and prioritize the needs of federal agencies.
However, in the event of the last resort, a continuing resolution (CR) should never shortchange vital programs like the initial draft of this one did.
The House’s first offering would have delivered a devastating blow to America’s farm community by leaving out a reimbursement to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). The CCC is the funding mechanism for the bulk of our nation’s agricultural and conservation programs. In order for these programs to work as intended, the CCC must be reimbursed by Congress on an annual basis.
For decades, the CCC has been routinely reimbursed without fanfare. Unfortunately, this year, it took an extra lift. When the word spread that CCC reimbursement had not been included in the House bill, over 40 agricultural organizations—representing farmers and ranchers across the country—urged Congress to fix this oversight. Their message was clear: we simply can’t go forward without CCC reimbursement in the bill. My Senate colleagues and I listened to their message, and pressured the House to forge a bipartisan compromise on the CR that included funding for the CCC.
A full CCC reimbursement means that farm and conservation program payments will go out as planned, offering farmers and ranchers a little bit more certainty and predictability to continue growing the food and fiber for this nation. This is welcome news as farmers and ranchers have faced more than enough challenges already this year. Along with unprecedented conditions created by the pandemic, agricultural producers have also been forced to cope with extreme weather events, low commodity prices and market volatility. Through all this adversity, they continue to produce the highest quality, lowest cost and safest food in the world. I am pleased that we came to an agreement as the last thing they needed was for Washington to make conditions even more difficult for rural America.
The compromise CR also fixed another unforced error—the failure to extend the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program.
Created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Pandemic EBT Program provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals who have been unable to benefit from these programs while closures are in place. With many school districts still implementing partial or full remote learning, parents continue struggling to ensure their children get healthy meals like those they would normally receive on campus. The compromise CR extends the program through the next fiscal year, which will help children who rely on the program to still benefit while closures remain in place.
It is our duty to ensure that support for the programs we voted for are not unnecessarily delayed due to partisan politics in Washington. The programs funded by the CCC were authorized by the Farm Bill in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner, and the Pandemic EBT Program was created by a bill that that received near universal support in the Senate. I am pleased that we were able to put our partisan differences aside to fund these priorities.