The Senate passed and sent to the White House a farm bill that would strengthen support for Vermont dairy farmers and increase nutrition programs for people struggling with rising grocery prices. Senator Bernie Sanders joined Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch at a Capitol Hill press conference on Thursday to discuss the bill. "This farm bill helps Vermont dairy farmers and provides a major step forward in addressing the growing crisis of hunger in America. It provides a strong safety net to protect family-based agriculture. It also provides increased funding for emergency food banks, and it takes significant steps forward in terms of moving us toward more sustainable energy," Sanders said. The White House has threatened a veto, but the overwhelming 81 to 15 vote in the Senate and a 318 to 106 vote the day before in the House were by wide enough margins to pass the five-year law over President Bush's objection.
The massive bill includes a fresh-produce snack program that Sanders championed. He helped to secure a provision that would expand support for wood as an energy resource. A nutrition education program that links schools with community gardens also was included in the legislation at Sanders' request.
"I am pleased that the farm bill supports essential nutrition and food programs for working families. It is important that we support community efforts to promote nutrition education in schools, access to affordable local produce, and sustainable forms of energy," Sanders added. "This legislation is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. I also am pleased that this bill begins to address the alarming needs of local food shelves and that my colleagues included important provisions to give access to, and education about, fresh, healthy produce to school children."
Sanders-supported provisions in The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 include:
· Fresh Produce for School Children - Senator Sanders pushed for an expansion of the existing produce pilot program to include Vermont. The bill will now expand the program nationwide. This provision would provide $1 billion over 10 years to be invested in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, which would allow 3 million low-income children to benefit from the program.
· Nutrition Education Pilot Program - Under this Sanders provision, five states could receive support for initiatives at "high-poverty" schools to support hands-on gardening programs which will simultaneously address nutrition education for children.
· Community Wood Energy - This Sanders and Leahy provision creates a program to provide grants to support wood energy systems that help meet community energy needs.
· Milk Income Loss Contract Program - Senator Sanders worked closely with Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch to secure this hugely important expansion.
· Support for Food Shelves - The farm bill would help address the struggles of food banks and food shelves by providing $1.26 billion over the next ten years, an increase that nearly doubles the current level of funding and which includes $50 million in 2008 to address immediate needs.
· Elimination of the "Enron Loophole" - This requires increased transparency in the oil, gas and energy markets and increases federal oversight and regulation of these markets to better detect and prevent fraud and manipulation that might affect the prices consumers, farmers and businesses pay for energy.
· Seniors' Farmers Market Coupons - Increases funding by $50 million over the next ten years for coupons for low-income seniors to purchase food from local farmers markets.
For more information on the farm bill, click here.
To watch video from the press conference click here.