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December 11, 2018

Senator Doug Jones Champions Rural Alabama Priorities in Final Farm Bill Legislation

Final conference bill includes Jones provisions for farmers, rural health, wastewater infrastructure, and high-speed internet

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Doug Jones today supported passage of a final Farm Bill that includes several key priorities for Alabama that he championed. The bill is the result of months of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate and House, and is undertaken only once every five years. It strengthens important commodity safety net programs and other protections for farmers who take on this risky and costly venture. It also provides increased funding for communities across the country and addresses issues from rural development to conservation to food assistance and more. In total, Alabama’s agriculture industry includes 43,000 farms, 580,000 jobs, and has an economic impact of roughly $70.4 billion. From timber, cotton, peanuts, and soybeans to peaches, blueberries, cattle, catfish, and poultry, Alabama’s agricultural and forestry industries play a significant role in the state’s economy.

The bill includes Senator Jones’ first piece of original legislation, the Rural Health Liaison Act, which will improve coordination of federal resources and expand health care access for rural Americans. It also includes provisions that will significantly increase funding for rural broadband, expands grants to install proper wastewater systems for rural residents, and supports programs for farmers of color, new farmers, and military veteran farmers. Senator Jones also successfully included a bipartisan provision to assist farmers who own and operate heirs property, who have long been shut out of federal programs due to a lack of certain documentation. That has been a concern particularly for African-American farmers in Alabama and across the South.

“This is a Farm Bill for rural Alabama and rural America,” said Senator Jones. “I’m proud that the final legislation ensures that our farmers have the support and resources they need to continue to do their important work. It also addresses several urgent issues for our state, particularly the need for expanded rural health care and broadband access. Since I arrived in the Senate in January, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as farmers from across Alabama, to advocate for a strong Farm Bill for all of our rural communities. This bill reflects the priorities we share for a brighter and more secure future for Alabama.”

The Farm Bill includes several specific provisions championed by Senator Jones for Alabama’s rural communities. They include:

Health Care

  • The Rural Health Liaison Act (S. 2894): establishes a rural health liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities. Senator Jones introduced this bipartisan legislation last month with Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.).

Sewage Infrastructure

  • The Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act (S.2772): expands the USDA’s Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $15,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems. Senator Jones was an original cosponsor of this bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to help address the rural sewage system crisis facing Alabama and other states. Senator Jones has visited impacted Alabama residents in Lowndes County and recently co-hosted a public health fair in Hayneville, Alabama with Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) to provide information and other resources to the community.

Broadband

  • The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act (S. 1676): increases the authorization from $25 million to $350 million annually for the USDA to provide loans and loan guarantees for broadband services in rural communities. Senator Jones cosponsored this legislation led by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.).
  • The Community Connect Grant Program Act (S. 2654): authorizes $50 million annually for the USDA Community Connect Program, which provides broadband grants targeted to the most rural, unserved, and high-poverty communities in the country. The program expands high-speed internet by providing new grants that will connect unserved households and businesses with modern internet access and streamlines broadband application process. Senator Jones cosponsored this legislation led by Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.). 

Farmers and Ranchers

  • The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act (S. 3117): requires the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues. Senator Jones introduced this legislation with Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to ensure that farmers of color don’t face unnecessary obstacles to use inherited land and to help them preserve this important source of wealth for future generations.
  • The Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act (S.2839) and the Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S. 2762): these two bills were combined to create permanent, mandatory baseline funding to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers. Senator Jones was an original cosponsor of both bills.

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