Congress passes farm bill with provisions for Alaska, drops work requirements
The congressional farm bill is headed to President Donald Trump's desk to be signed into law, along with provisions of interest to Alaskans.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2 on Wednesday by a vote 369 to 47. The US Senate passed it Tuesday.
Alaska's junior senator, Dan Sullivan, said he added a provision to the bill requiring fish used in the nation's school lunch program to be "caught in American waters, processed in America, and then can be part of school lunch program."
Doing so, Sullivan added in a statement, will "greatly enhance the quality of food served to our kids and expand the markets for our fishermen."
Another provision will authorize $30 million to develop better drinking water and sanitation for rural Alaskans.
HR 2 also authorized $4 million to be sent to Alaska to increase locally grown food in places where food security is an issue.
“We know that food insecurity is a reality for many Alaskans and this year’s Farm Bill prioritizes money to address this issue for both rural and urban areas," Alaska's lone representative, Don Young, said in a statement.
One thing the final version of the farm bill did not do is make big changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Earlier versions of the bill required people to work more hours to be eligible for benefits like food stamps.
Indiana Turkisher, SNAP outreach manager for the Food Bank of Alaska, said the proposed changes could have had a big impact on the 89,000 Alaskans who receive SNAP benefits. She said the new requirements would have been a nightmare for the state to administer and would have made Alaska's already high number of people living with food insecurity, even higher.
"If you live in a rural community or even if you live in Anchorage, food is really expensive," Turkisher said. "If you are trying to make it by and get nutritious food with less SNAP dollars, the likelihood that you are going to be able to provide adequate meals for your family is going to be a lot more challenging."
Due to the state's high unemployment rate, Alaska currently has a waiver so people don't have to work to be eligible for SNAP benefits. Turkisher said if the farm bill had passed with new requirements, the state would no longer have been permitted to apply for the waiver.
Alaska's senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, said that "ultimately I was unable to support the final conference report."
"Despite the billions in subsidies that continue to be directed to agribusiness, the bill does not include meaningful forest management reforms, a Roadless Rule exemption for Alaska, or other important state priorities,” Murkowski said in a statement.
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