In Ohio, one out of every seven jobs is connected to growing, processing, or distributing the food we eat and the products we use every day. In fact, agriculture and food contribute more than $107 billion dollars to our state's economy each year. That's why, when I talk to farmers around the state, I hear how important the farm bill is and how the lack of a farm bill has led to uncertainty that makes it tougher for farmers to do their jobs. In fact, the lack of a farm bill has even affected farmer's planting decisions. That is not good for Ohio farmers and it is not good for Ohioans.
The farm bill has also always combined nutrition and farm support. Recently, I was joined on a call by the Executive Vice-President of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Jack Fisher, and the Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, to discuss this important partnership. Fisher explained the importance of a Farm Bill that has "market-driven commodity programs; a strong safety net for Ohio farmers; and a safe and abundant food supply that continues the very important crop insurance program." On the nutrition side, Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, highlighted the importance for funding federal hunger relief programs. She noted that, "Hunger increases health care costs, lowers worker productivity, harms children's development and diminishes their educational performance." Both Fisher and Hamler-Fugitt support a comprehensive farm bill that will save taxpayer dollars and help all Ohioans.
Twice the Senate has acted - passing bipartisan farm bills that address the needs of Ohioans. This year, the House passed a partisan, party-line bill. But the House's action is better late than never, and House action has enabled the Senate and House to go work out their differences in a farm bill conference committee.
I'm honored to be part of the farm bill conference committee, and my goal - and that of my Senate colleagues - is to work with our House counterparts to send a common sense, bipartisan bill to the President.
As negotiations continue, these are the top five priorities we must consider in the bill:
First, I cannot support a bill that harms those in need or down on their luck. The proposal farm bill cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by nearly $40 billion a proposal that will leave too many Americans hungry. Almost 90 percent of SNAP households are made up of seniors, the disabled, and families with children. For millions, SNAP helps buy groceries when wages are tight, savings have been depleted, and families are struggling to make ends meet. The House cuts are bad policy. Such a proposal, especially during the holiday season, is a non-starter.
Second, we must improve the farm safety net. As I've traveled the state, Ohio's farmers have told me that they don't need and don't want direct farm payments. That's why I introduced a bill with my Republican colleague, Senator John Thune (R-SD), to streamline the farm safety net, save taxpayers billions of dollars, and make farm programs more market oriented. The Senate-passed farm bill builds on my legislation and ensures that production and planting decisions are determined by the market, not by a government program. Simply put, Ohio corn and soybean farmers must have a farm programs that separates planting decisions from government programs - programs that the House keeps while cutting SNAP.
Third, the Senate's farm bill also incorporates many portions of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act that I introduced with many members of the Senate Agriculture Committee. This commonsense legislation connects farmers with new consumers who live nearby their farms. Expanding local farmers' markets keeps more money in Ohio - strengthening our local economy - and increases Ohioan's access to nutritious, locally-grown food.
Fourth, the Senate's Rural Development title invests in our communities. Whether it is a water and sewer project in Henry County, a low interest loan to Buckeye Power, or bringing broadband to southeast Ohio, the farm bill must make sure our rural communities have the tools, programs, and capital they need to succeed.
Finally, Ohio is home to approximately 130 companies that use agricultural crops to make new products ranging from natural pet foods, bio-based paint, to soy ink, and toner. These companies create jobs - and new markets for our farmers and our manufacturers. The Senate's Farm Bill strengthens bio-based manufacturers and spurs new agricultural innovations.
This farm bill affects all Ohioans. It is a jobs and innovation bill, an economic development bill, and, of course, about the food all of us eat. That's why I will continue to fight to pass a comprehensive farm bill. It's the responsible thing to do, and Ohio depends on it.