December 10, 2011

Wyden Legislation Will Create Agricultural Jobs, Improve Food Stamp Program, and Increase School Access to Locally Grown Fruits and Vegetables

Proposal Would Also Establish a “Micro-Loan” Program for Small Farmers and Reduce Paperwork

Washington, D.C. – Seeking to help Oregon farmers, improve the food stamp program and open up markets for locally grown fruits and vegetables, Senator Ron Wyden today rolled out a series of proposals aimed at creating more agriculture jobs and improving access of healthier foods.

The legislative proposals were developed with the help of the 28 members of an agriculture advisory committee Wyden created earlier this year.

“Since agriculture is one of the cornerstones of the Oregon economy and with Congress getting ready to debate a new Farm Bill, I wanted the best advice I could get from farmers, ranchers, hunger advocates and others from across the state,” Wyden said. “What we came up with is a series of proposals that I believe will create agricultural jobs, increase access of healthy locally grown fruits and vegetables and reduce paperwork for small farmers while improving access to federal loans.”

The two major components of the plan will:

  1. Ensure that federal nutrition spending by the food stamp and school lunch programs promotes healthier eating,  increases consumption of domestically produced fruits and vegetables, and helps  local small farmers;
  2. Modify USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan rules to help young people to buy farm land and small to mid-sized farms to get operating loans so they can expand operations and weather economic downturns.

Wyden’s proposal would create a food stamp waiver process that would allow states to encourage healthier eating and improve health outcomes from the $75 billion the federal spends on the program each year. It would also allow schools to spend some of the money they receive from the USDA on locally produced healthy foods rather than purchasing all its food from federal warehouses and allow farmers to avoid paying taxes on the income derived from selling to local schools.

The Wyden legislation would also require the USDA to establish a micro-loan program that simplifies the loan process and substantially shortens the time required to receive a loan, eliminating the current practice of treating small loans the same as large ones. 

Other features of the program include:

  • Establishing a pre-certification process within the WIC program for grocery stores and other food outlets to help eliminate food deserts;
  • Providing funds for innovation and investment by small farmers and reducing paperwork burdens.