Farm bill bonus: This year's reauthorization includes a potential leg up for Cheshire County

December 30, 2018

It wasn’t a perfect bill, by any means; the political fodder that is the Department of Agriculture’s omnibus funding bill is, every five years, a new opportunity for pork and policy tuning. And so it was with this year’s farm bill. On the former, we’ll simply note that one legislator’s pork is another’s justifiable aid, and that the entire point of what was originally called the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 was to pay farmers not to grow certain crops.

As for the policy issues, this year’s version was bogged down in the spring by liberals’ attempts to attach immigration policy changes, and later almost fell victim to conservatives’ attempts to insert new work provisions on those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding (commonly known as food stamps).

The $867 billion bill that passed earlier this month and which was signed by President Trump is probably about as good as could be hoped for, and came just in time. The previous authorization expired as of Sept. 30, but funding for the programs under the bill — most importantly SNAP — would have run out at year’s end.

The work requirements were ditched at the last minute, which is good news for the millions of Americans who rely on SNAP payments to feed themselves and their families. There may indeed be some needed changes in how that program is administered — particularly to ensure the assistance is being used for healthful foods and drinks — but the narrative that what those receiving help really need is a “tough love” push to spend more time working in exchange is more likely to exacerbate the woes of those in need than to fix them.

This farm bill also took a big step forward by finally recognizing that hemp and marijuana, while they come from the same plant, are not the same thing. Whether the national trend toward relaxing marijuana laws was the driving force (as likely is the increasing economic potential of farms that grow the plants legally) or not, the move of removing hemp from federal drug schedules gives hemp farmers access to banking, crop insurance and grants.

And Cheshire County, specifically, got a boost from the bill: It is among a handful of counties in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New York that will soon become eligible for grants through the Northern Border Regional Commission.

That group offers economic opportunity grants in communities seen to be disadvantaged — such as having high poverty, unemployment or out-migration rates. That Cheshire County qualifies isn’t cheering news, of course, and might surprise some. But that it’s now included brings a benefit that could be useful in sparking development.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Ann M. Kuster deserve credit for pushing to get Cheshire — along with Belknap County and, in Vermont, Windham and Windsor counties, among others — a needed leg up. Last year, the commission awarded nearly $2.3 million to New Hampshire towns and organizations, and the five-year reauthorization includes additional funding.

Some might deem such targeted funding help pork, but in this case, the hope is it will lead to development that will allow more in the region to bring home the bacon.

By:  Editorial
Source: Keene Sentinel