WASHINGTON, D.C. [11/01/2019]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) successfully fought to secure a number of her priorities in the bipartisan package of spending bills passed by the Senate this week, including efforts to support beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers, Native health, the health of the Great Lakes and two rural housing amendments authored by Sen. Smith.
“Part of my work to make sure Minnesotans’ voices are heard in Washington is working to put real dollars behind our priorities, and that’s what I pushed to do in the appropriations bills we passed in the Senate,” said Sen. Smith. “I fought for transportation, rural housing, agriculture and Native health programs and my bipartisan rural housing amendments because I keep Minnesotans on my mind, and the fact that we as lawmakers should be focused on solutions that help Americans live the lives they want to lead.”
Sen. Smith voted to include an amendment that prevents an automatic cut—known as the Rostenkowski Test—that would have cut $1.2 billion to public transportation, including a $14.7 million cut in Minnesota. Sen. Smith successfully included the following priorities in the larger package:
Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program. The FOTO program—established in the 2018 Farm Bill—merged the Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers. Sen. Smith championed both these programs during the Farm Bill debate last year, and she fought to fund this program because she understands that FOTO strengthens USDA efforts to train and assist beginning, veteran, tribal, and other underserved farmers.
Energy Title. Sen. Smith created the framework for the Energy Title of the Farm Bill, and she understands that in addition to diversifying our energy supply with renewable energy sources, energy title programs help rural communities produce good-paying jobs, advance manufacturing and address our changing environment. Sen. Smith pushed for increased funding in the Energy Title and has championed its most popular program—the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)—which helps farmers and rural businesses to expand use of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency.
Water & Electric Infrastructure. The Senate-passed appropriations bill includes funding for rural water and waste program loans, rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans, and distance learning/telemedicine and broadband grants.
Rural Housing Loans and Rental Assistance. Sen. Smith—who has been conducting affordable housing listening sessions with her staff across Minnesota—supports a program that provides low-income rural families with home loan assistance. In addition, the Senate-passed appropriations bills provides resources for affordable housing rental assistance to help low-income families and the elderly in rural communities.
Business and Industry Loans. A former small business owner herself, Sen. Smith fought to fund grants and loans for rural business and industry programs that promote small business growth in rural areas. The bill also includes funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to improve access to affordable, healthy foods in underserved areas.
Health and Conservation
Special Native Behavioral Health Program. The legislative package continues funding for a special behavior health pilot program for Tribes. Sen. Smith offered an amendment to increase funding for the program, which is based on her bill to create a permanent special behavioral health program—the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act.
Land and Water Conservation Program. The Senate bill includes substantial support for LWCF, which funds vital conservation work in Minnesota. The President had proposed to completely eliminate LWCF funding.
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Sen. Smith said the bill also continues support of the GLRI, which has played a key role in cleaning up portions of the Great Lakes, reducing phosphorous runoff, and stopping the advancement of invasive species.
Rural Housing Appropriations Amendments. Sen. Smith’s two bipartisan rural housing amendments were included in the appropriations package. The first amendment would direct the Secretary of Agriculture to prioritize maintenance and staff needs for rural housing facilities.
During Sen. Smith’s housing listening tour, her office has heard about the difficulty of complying with several federal funding programs at once, since many program requirements are not aligned. Her second amendment would remedy that by bringing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rental assistance program in line with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, making it easier for rural property owners to take advantage of both USDA rental assistance and the Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
It also allows the Secretary of Agriculture to renew a rental assistance agreement for 20 years. Many rural property owners use Low Income Housing Tax Credits to finance their properties, but have had difficulty securing these investments when they cannot confirm that their properties will participate in the USDA rental assistance program for more than one year. Authorizing 20-year contract renewals would help rural property owners secure these investments. This amendment would make it easier for rural property owners to take advantage of both USDA rental assistance and the Low Income Housing Tax Credits.