Beth Ford in letter to key lawmakers provides details on what is needed in next aid package
As CEO of a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O'Lakes, Beth Ford wrote congressional leaders (link) to thank them for their efforts to date to aid the U.S. ag sector, saying they “will serve as a critical down payment not only to agricultural producers and unemployed workers that are suffering at the frontlines of the Covid-19 disruption, but also to the communities in which they live.” She noted Congress and the Trump administration “need to invest the necessary resources for the long term if we want to maintain our nation’s strategic security capability: the ability to feed itself.” She listed the following “pillars” a new aid plan should have, including the following:
1. Economic Relief and Access to Capital for Farmers: Congress should provide USDA with significant funding to keep rural communities and supply chains resilient and vibrant in these times. Additionally, I call on Congress to mandate that USDA develop a rural Covid-19 task force of experts representing all facets of agriculture and rural areas that would advise USDA on the distribution of resources. The task force should develop strategies and consult with the Chair and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees as funds are distributed to ensure rural communities’ needs are met.
2. Broadband Infrastructure: Every day, 19 million people across rural America live without reliable access to high-speed internet. Significant federal funding is needed to fill the gap in poor infrastructure and provide incentives for the telecommunications industry to bring broadband connectivity to rural areas. Broadband is foundational for a productive future, but it is also foundational for the “life or death” circumstances that we find ourselves in today. High-speed broadband will enable benefits such as telemedicine, education, and our new way of working, including on the farm, post Covid-19 pandemic.
3. Support for Rural Health Care Providers: In the past decade, more than 125 rural hospitals have closed and doctor shortages are estimated at 40,000, leaving these areas with a shortage of health care providers even in times when there is no pandemic. Additional funds and resources should be provided to states to support rural hospitals and clinics that are on the front lines working to detect and treat those who contract Covid-19.
4. Food Security and Nutrition Assistance: Continue to provide funding for enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits and other critically important nutrition programs, with a specific emphasis on helping children and families. More than two million households in rural America are food insecure in normal times, and this problem will only grow worse as our economy declines.