Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett's Statement Regarding the 2018 Farm Bill
Congresswoman Stacey E. Plaskett (USVI), a member of the Committee on Agriculture, released the following statement regarding the 2018 Farm Bill:
"Today the House will consider a newly unveiled Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, to continue agriculture and nutrition programs through fiscal year 2023 or the related crop year.
"This final bill is certainly an improvement over the House version, which contained draconian cuts to nutrition programs. I was pleased to see no cuts to eligibility or benefits, no additional work-related requirements, and no changes related to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. There are also good provisions for the Virgin Islands in this legislation, including a new $10 million program for grants to support locally grown food through small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations in U.S. territories. The bill continues standing Department of Agriculture assistance to the Virgin Islands, including grants to assist the University of the Virgin Islands to upgrade facilities and equipment in the agricultural and food sciences.
"However, there are shortcomings to this legislation. There was no opportunity for members of the Agriculture Committee on the Democratic side of the aisle to offer amendments to the House bill that would have provided me the chance to address issues important to the Virgin Islands community. For example, it includes no mandatory funding for rural development, including for broadband and rural infrastructure grants. This means that funding for these very important programs will not be mandatory but will depend on future appropriations by Congress. That is, sufficient levels of funding will be up to decision makers in the future. I believe these to be important programs for the Virgin Islands and will continue my work to see that these important programs are fully funded.
"The final bill also includes a federal ban on cockfighting in U.S. territories including the Virgin Islands. I was an opponent of this amendment -- I believed it to be a tremendous overreach of the federal government which has not supported other basic needs of the territory. As a member of the Farm Bill conference I discussed this during the conference committee, however the amendment was included, although we were able to create a phase out period of one year.
"Next year, I will work to see that the Democratic-controlled Agriculture Committee increases funding for smaller farming operations including husbandry. I recognize that many young people in the Virgin Islands spend a tremendous amount of time caring for their birds. Rather than put them underground, I will be working for a way for them to direct their energies to 4H and other support for husbandry and other kinds of farming programs. I also hope to work with the new Chairman and other members to increase funding for farmers and livestock owners and for value added food processing as well as small business funding for the territory."