Bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill turns the tide for historically underserved farmers and ranchers

By: Lorette Picciano, Executive Director, Rural Coalition

The Rural Coalition and its members applaud the completion of the House and Senate conference report to the 2018 Farm Bill. The conference report was passed in the U. S. Senate by a vote of 86 to 12 and the U. S. House of Representatives by 334 to 47 last week. The 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law this week by President Donald J. Trump.
The 2018 Farm Bill is a strong indication of Congress’ legislative efforts to ensure that our nation’s African American, Asian Pacific, Latino, and Tribal Farmers and Ranchers and rural communities are well equipped to meet the growing demands for healthy foods and farm land preservation.
Rooted in the stronger Bipartisan Senate version of the bill crafted under the leadership of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Senator Pat Roberts, and Ranking Member Senator Debbie Stabenow, the package ensures food access for all communities, and retains funding and authority for the crucial Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It also increases support for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program and related initiatives to strengthen local food systems.
Of great significance to our communities, it makes critical new investments in tribal farmers and food systems and programs supporting the nation’s historically underserved, veteran and young farmers and ranchers, improves transparency in credit programs and removes barriers to cultivation of industrial hemp, strengthens local food and organic programs and establishes an Office of Urban Agriculture.
Some Specific Sections of the 2018 Farm Bill, we highlight are:

· Extends SNAP funding as in Nutrition Title in the Senate Bill without the very stiff and bureaucratic workfare requirements in the current House bill. Those provisions would create hunger and deepen poverty for vulnerable Americans, including children and families, and burden States with implementation and costs of constructing an underfunded bureaucratic infrastructure.

· Provides Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers who attempt to farm on “heirs property”.

  The conference report language ensures that more farmers — especially African-American farmers and farmers of color operating on land with undivided interests – can finally access USDA programs that enable them to protect the soil and water; and continue to operate viable farms that feed their communities.  

This language, sponsored with thanks to Senators Doug Jones, Tim Scott and Tom Udall in the Senate, and Reps. Marcia Fudge, Sanford Bishop and Alma Adams in the House, was developed in cooperation with Rural Coalition with its members including the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc., Land Loss Prevention Project, and Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, with critical support from the Uniform Laws Commission, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and support from the National Association of Conservation Districts.
· Expands and Improves Opportunities for all Farmers to Access USDA Programs – The Conference Report includes language that creates the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program. FOTO strengthens the historic Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program and also links it closely to the related Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The improved program provides permanent authority and permanent funding of $50 million annually, shared equally between the two programs. We thank Senators Tina Smith, Chris Van Hollen, Tom Udall, Reps. Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Ben Ray Lujan, Sanford Bishop and many others who led the effort to make these changes. And we especially credit the Senators Stabenow and Roberts and their staffs for their diligent efforts to permanently secure and fund this landmark program.
· Legalizes and regulates cultivation of Industrial Hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.
· Provides critical improvements in USDA direct lending credit policy by including equitable relief servicing options in order to protect producers against errors or mistakes made within the USDA direct lending program.
· Authorizes the Farmer and Rancher Stress Assistance Network which supports mental health resources and services to farmers and farmworkers who need them;
· Creates a new Local Agricultural Market Program (LAMP) by merging authorities and providing baseline funding for a streamlined new program. Specifically the LAMP language links the previous Farmers Market Promotion Program, the Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-Added Producer Grants Program.
· Establishes an Office of Urban Agriculture
“This bill turns the tide for African American and all other historically underserved farmers and ranchers,” said Rural Coalition Vice Chairperson Georgia Good, Executive Director of the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, which has worked since 1937 to improve the quality of life in rural communities in the South. We are grateful to Senators Tim Scott (SC) and Doug Jones (AL) for opening a critical new door to allow families of multiple generations operating on inherited land to be allowed in to the programs of USDA that all farmers need to thrive with their bill. We further thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KA) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI)for their patient and persistent leadership to work with us all to include these sections in a landmark package that values all rural communities and peoples.”

According to Rural Coalition Chairperson John Zippert of the Alabama Association of Cooperatives, “The Federation of Southern Cooperatives estimates more than 40% of black owned land is in heirs property status. Including the Fair Access Act in this bill enables people in states that have the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property laws to access USDA programs more directly with less red tape.”

“We have been working hard for decades to bring equity to the farm bill in terms of treatment for Black farmers and other farmers of color to build cooperatives and to uplift low-wealth communities. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 addresses continuing inequities and supports the quality hands-on assistance needed to make sure the 2018 farm bill reaches everyone,” he continued.

“Particular thanks are due to the Senators Stabenow and Roberts and their staffs for dedicated efforts to refine legislation and push it to the finish line, and to Rep. Conaway and Peterson’s staffs for working with them to make the important changes necessary to improve opportunities for all farmers. We also thank the many other Senators and members of Congress who led in developing key sections of this legislation.

“The Agricultural Improvement Act passed last week is a huge step forward,” said Rural Coalition Board Member Rudy Arredondo, President of the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association. “We are extremely happy that the Agriculture Committee leaders were able to stay focused on the essentials of as good a bipartisan farm bill as we can get in this political climate.”

Everyone in our nation who cares about a future for diverse farmers, ranchers and rural communities needs to call upon Congress and the President to assure swift passage and signing, and final enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Federation honors memory of Ralph Paige at 51st Annual Meeting

Pictured above are members of the Paige family including wife Bernice, children Bernard and Kenyatta, and grandchildren on stage with Federation Executive Director, Cornelius Blanding and members of the organization’s Board of Directors. Cornelius Blanding discusses plans for cooperative development curriculum with President Quentin Ross of Alabama State University. The Rural Coalition presents a certificate to the Federation for its 50th anniversary. L to R Shirley Blakley, Chair of Federation Board, Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition, John Zippert, Rural Coalition Board, Darnella Burkett Winston, Rural Coalition Board, Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund honored the memory of its longtime Executive Director, Ralph Paige, who served for thirty yeas from 1985-2015. He was awarded its Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night in Birmingham at the beginning of the organization’s 51st Annual Meeting. Several speakers at the Witherspoon Award banquet celebrated Ralph Paige’s 46 years of work and service to the movement for Black farmers, land and cooperative development that symbolized the work of the Federation. Paige died recently at the age of 74. The Federation’s Board of Directors met Thursday in Birmingham to review the program direction and finances of the organization. Two Roundtables one on Cooperative Development and one on Land Retention were also held in Birmingham. Quentin Ross, President of Alabama State University in Montgomery spoke at the Cooperative Roundtable of working with the Federation on developing a cooperative education curriculum for the students at ASU including internships with Federation member cooperatives and credit unions. The Federation has developed and is in the process of implementing a similar program with Tuskegee University. On Friday and Saturday the site of the meeting shifted to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, in Sumter County, Alabama. Friday’s program began with a panel of USDA program experts who both presented about their programs and answered questions from the audience of farmers and landowners. There was a lively interchange of views between USDA officials and their farmer stakeholders on issues of agricultural tariffs, program eligibility, focusing resources on new and beginning farmers and other relevant issues. State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma was the lunchtime speaker and among other remarks, he introduced his daughter, Malika Sanders Fortier, who is running to fill his position as State Senator for District 24 in the November 6 General Election. Several members of Federation related cooperatives gave five-minute testimonials on their experience working with the Federation and how it helped to improve their family income and quality of life. There were more educational workshops, demonstration farm and forestry tours and a fish fry, food tasting, auction and entertainment to close out the Friday activities. The program on Saturday began with a Prayer Breakfast at which Rev. Wendell Paris, a past staff member, spoke to the importance of the work of the Federation and the “sacred ground” that the Federation’s training center was built upon. A business meeting, report from the Board and Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, state caucus discussions on program needs and direction, and the awarding of five $1,000 scholarships to high school graduates for their first year of college rounded out the program.

John Zippert running for State Democratic Executive Committee District 72

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John Zippert is running for the State Democratic Executive Committee in District 72, which includes parts of Greene, Hale and Perry Counties. He will be on the ballot in the Democratic Primary on June 5, 2018
Zippert is currently the Co-Publisher and Editor of the Greene County Democrat weekly newspaper based in Eutaw, Alabama. He has worked in management and training capacities with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund based at the organization’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama, for the past 50 years and is semi-retired from the Federation.
Zippert serves on the Greene County Health Systems Board of Directors and the Greene County Industrial Development Authority Board.
He is a founding member of the Alabama New South Coalition and serves as its current State President. He serves on the boards of several state and national organizations including the Alabama Council on Human Relations, Rural Coalition, Rural Development Leadership Network and others.
‘I am running for the State Democratic Executive Committee because I want to help reform and revitalize the Democratic Party in Alabama. I want to build on the momentum we gained in electing Doug Jones to the United States Senate in the Special Election last December,” said Zippert.

He continued, “The Democratic Party in Alabama must be part of a fifty state strategy to elect progressive candidates committed to assisting poor and working people make changes that increase fairness, justice and inclusion of all people and share the prosperity of this economy more equitably with everyone.”
Zippert is married to Carol Prejean Zippert, Co-Publisher of the Democrat and Greene County School Board member. They have three children and eleven grandchildren.

‘Ride to Restore Section 5’ grassroots lobbyists push Voting Rights Advancement Act in Washington, D. C.

Special to the Democrat by: John Zippert,
Co-Publisher

Hodge.jpgwash group.jpgCongresswoman Terri Sewell address youth as part of the training to support ride to revive Section 5.

A group of sixty community activists from Alabama went to Washington, D. C. in six vans from Sunday to Tuesday (June 24-27, 2017) to support the Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), HR 2948, introduced last week by our Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.
The bill was introduced on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Shelby vs, Holder decision, which gutted Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore and advance Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to include 14 states and other political subdivisions. These areas would again be placed under the protection of Section 5 and be required to have any election changes pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before they could be implanted.
The VRAA updates the criteria and establishes a nationwide coverage formula for states and political subdivisions that would be subject again to the pre-clearance provisions of Section 5. Any state that has had 15 or more voting violations in the last 25-year period; or 10 or more voting violations, at least one of the violations committed by the state itself, would be covered. A political subdivision within a state can be covered if it commits 3 or more voting violations.
The bill also carefully defines what constitutes a voting rights violation and which election changes must be submitted for pre-clearance.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell said, “The VRAA is an advancement bill, it advances voting rights throughout the country. Under this bill, all eleven states that were part of the Confederacy, including Alabama, as well as other political subdivisions around the nation and on tribal lands would be covered and subject to the pre-clearance provisions.”
The VRAA would classify voting changes such as strict voter photo identification requirements, and voter registration requirements to be reviewed and possibly overturned if they were deemed to be more stringent than the requirements in Section 303b of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.The VRAA, HR 2948, has 182 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. They are all Democrats. And the companion legislation S.1490 in the Senate has 46 co-sponsors, also all Democrats, so far.
The grassroots voting activists visited more than 75 Congressional offices, including the membership of the House Judiciary Committee, Alabama’s delegation of six Republican members besides Sewell and our two Senators – Richard Shelby and Luther Strange. The grassroots activists left a package of information including factsheets on the legislation, a Senate Sketches by State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma, which deals with the “power of one vote”, and materials about the Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma, the first weekend in March each year.
On Tuesday morning, the Alabama group joined by other activists in Washington from the Rural Coalition, Food and Water Watch, National Family Farm Coalition and other groups had a rally and press conference on the Capitol grounds facing the Cannon House Office Building on Independence Avenue and First Street NE.
The rally had many chants supporting the revival of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act along with civil rights freedom songs. Several Congresspersons, including Terri Sewell, G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Marc Veasey of Dallas, Texas and Katherine M. Clark of Massachusetts addressed the rally. Congressman John Lewis drove by the rally on Independence Avenue and saluted the crowd.
On Monday night, the group had a meeting at Howard University Law School, which was addressed by several civil rights veterans, including former D. C. Congressman Walter E.
Fauntroy, Viola Bradford, who wrote for the Southern Courier newspaper in Montgomery, Antonio Harrison, a former Alabama State Senator, who lives and works in D. C. Professor Ardua of the Law School spoke on the need for reparations to address the continuing impact of slavery on Black people.
The Ride to Revive Section 5 was sponsored by the SOS Coalition for Justice and Democracy, Alabama New South Coalition and other local groups in Alabama. For more information or to make donations to help the cause – contact Shelley Fearson at 334-262-0932 or email: Alabamanewsouth Coordinator@ aol.com