In a letter sent Wednesday to the Biden Administration, several key Congressional committees, and Maine’s Congressional Delegation, Gov. Janet Mills detailed Maine’s priorities for the forthcoming 2023 farm bill.
Chief among them: More federal dollars to recharge EBT cards.
In her Aug. 30 letter, Gov. Mills expressed her support for a “comprehensive and equitable” 2023 farm bill.
“My administration supports an equitable and robust Farm Bill that retains and, in key areas, expands funding to critical agriculture, nutrition, forestry, and conservation programs,” wrote Gov. Mills.
Mills did not elaborate on how exactly to bring “equity” to the spending bill.
Farm bills have historically covered food supply, food safety, conservation efforts, welfare programs, international trade, and other economic concerns of America’s rural communities.
But sometimes the “must pass” bill laden with subsidies gets joined with unrelated priorities.
An initial version of the 2018 farm bill faced opposition from both Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike, due to provisions that Republicans believed would weaken immigration policy, and that Democrats opposed due to imposing work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
“Given the sweeping nature of the Farm Bill, and the economic impact on our state, its contents and passage are a high priority for my administration, and we are committed to supporting its most beneficial and ambitious outcomes,” Mills wrote.
Among the priorities Mills outlined in her letter are an increase to SNAP benefits and support for the Universal School Meals Program.
Sam Adolphsen, the policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), said the Farm Bill has come to be known more for it’s welfare funding than anything else.
“The so-called Farm Bill really should be called the “Food Stamp” bill because more than 80 percent of it is spent on food stamps,” said Adolphsen, who formerly worked at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services under Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
“And thanks to welfare-for-all policies pushed by politicians like Joe Biden and Janet Mills, food stamp spending has more than doubled in just a few years, which has driven up the cost of food,” he said.
Adolphsen pointed to national figures which have shown a high level of waste in the program, and criticized the Mills Administration for reversing anti-fraud policies he helped implement as part of the LePage Administration.
The Farm Bill also contains money for free and reduced school lunches.
Public schools in Maine provide free school lunches and breakfasts as part of a bill passed into law and signed by Gov. Mills in July 2021 that took effect for the 2022-2023 school year — becoming the second state to provide free school meals after California.
Similar bills have so far been passed in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont.
Additionally, the governor’s letter calls for increased funding for farmland conservation programs, wildfire mitigation, “climate-smart” agriculture funding, support for land grant institutions, and increased federal support for farmers impacted by “PFAS,” so-called ‘forever chemicals’ found in soil that can be harmful to humans and animals.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2022 farm operations covered 1.3 million acres in Maine, and generated a production value of $252 million from potatoes, and $111 million from blueberries.
The farm bill, originating as a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation in the 1930s, is an omnibus legislative package passed roughly once every five years.
The most recent farm bill, the $867 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, is set to expire at the end of this year, although some of its provisions will extend beyond 2023.