By Rep. Steve Southerland (R-North Florida)
Special to The Star
With partisan gridlock all too prevalent in today’s Washington, I have worked hard to break through those barriers and join with Republicans and Democrats who are as interested as I am in growing jobs and restoring certainty for hardworking families. The recently-passed Farm Bill is an example of what can be accomplished by putting partnership above partisanship.
For more than a year Congress debated the latest reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which sets national agriculture and food policy for the next five years. With Florida being a national leader in agricultural production and the second largest specialty crop-producing state in America, I was committed to doing all I could to advance a common sense Farm Bill that restored certainty for North and Northwest Florida farmers and strengthened our rural communities.
I was honored to be the only Floridian in Congress appointed to the bipartisan conference committee tasked with ironing out the final Farm Bill agreement. It was a tremendous, hard-earned victory when both parties and both chambers came together for the good of the American people and passed a five-year Farm Bill that provides much-needed relief to our hardworking farming families and saves taxpayers $23 billion – while allowing us to finally move past the costly, big government policies passed under then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Farm Bill six years ago.
I am also pleased that Republicans and Democrats came together to support a provision in the Farm Bill I introduced to empower vulnerable families with a renewed opportunity for earned success. By including a 10-state pilot program for work, job training, and community volunteerism for healthy, working age food stamp beneficiaries, we’ve now put nutrition assistance on the same proven path of success that helped change a culture for the better during welfare reform in the 1990s. As the first reforms to the food stamp program since the successful welfare reforms of 1996, the Farm Bill takes important steps to empower families in need with a renewed opportunity at earned success.
Additionally, the Farm Bill includes several provisions I crafted to sustain the economies of our rural communities. The bipartisan Building Rural Communities Act ensures that small, rural areas have access to the technical assistance and training necessary to enhance vital infrastructure – including police and fire stations and community health clinics – all at no additional cost to America’s taxpayers. Another provision I advanced strengthens our forestry communities by ensuring that wood products qualify under the USDA’s Biobased Marketing Program. I also fought to guarantee the long-term viability of citrus production in Florida by helping secure $125 million to research remedies for citrus greening, a disease decimating citrus groves in Florida and nationwide.
Updating the Farm Bill is never easy, but this bill represents the good that can come out of both parties and both chambers rising above politics to do what is right for the American people. Our farmers and rural families deserve real solutions – not political mud fights – and this bipartisan Farm Bill is a big step in the right direction.