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Senator Debbie Stabenow promotes her priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill during MSU visit

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow speaking at a podium in an atrium
Michelle Jokisch Polo
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow made a stop at Michigan State University Wednesday to discuss her priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.

Every five years, Congress considers a patchwork of policies that oversee a range of food and agricultural initiatives for the entire country. It's known as the Farm Bill.

This year, the bill has faced significant hurdles as legislators have not yet reached a compromise on work requirements for those receiving food assistance benefits.

To qualify, Michiganders are required to work an average of 20 hours per week. Some Republican lawmakers want to increase that threshold.

Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, says she’s intent on keeping the requirements as is.

“In fact, adding more to that just takes away the ability for people to get food rather than helping," she said during a stop at Michigan State University on Wednesday.

In April of 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, work requirements were suspended for all Michigan residents receiving food assistance benefits. That suspension was lifted in July of this year.

"Now they're back in place and so, for folks who say 'We need work requirements,' I say to them, 'We have work requirements, and they have been effective,'" Stabenow said. "We need to do whatever we can to support those who want help around job training and assistance and to be able to get into jobs."

Phil Knight is the CEO of the Food Council of Michigan. He says he would like to see the work requirements eliminated entirely.

"Any policy that hinders people from having access to the foods that they want and need for their families is a bad policy. So, let's just remove those obstacles," he said.

According to Knight, more than a million Michiganders experience food insecurity in a regular basis.

"Anything in the Farm Bill that can help us put food first and really be able to take hunger off the table," he said. "So that people's minds are free to find their next success is really a great investment and something that the Farm Bill can help us do."

In March of this year, additional COVID-era food assistance benefits were eliminated. Knight says this has caused some people in Michigan to go from receiving $250 dollars per month to $23 per month.

"So, where are they going to go to make up that difference?" Knight said. "They're going to come to the food banks."

During her visit, Stabenow also said she wants farmers in the state to have better access to safety nets if they have a bad harvest.

"For instance, a few years ago, we had a warming in February with our cherry crop. The trees all thought it was spring, and so the buds came out. And then it was a huge frost, and it wiped everything out," she said. "So, having crop insurance for them to be able to get the support they need for the next year is really important for me."

The current iteration of the Farm Bill expires at the end of September. Stabenow says she’s hoping to pass the next version before the end of the year.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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