AFT Urges Congress to Provide Relief for State and Local Governments in Next COVID Package
While Congress and the Administration continue negotiations on another coronavirus relief package, American Farmland Trust (AFT) strongly recommends that any forthcoming legislation include substantial relief for state and local governments.
As a national organization with six regional offices and engaged in state policy across the country, we see firsthand the critical work undertaken by state and local governments. This work includes providing substantial support for farmland protection, helping farmers adopt conservation practices, and supporting the viability of farm businesses. Yet because of the unprecedented situation states find themselves in – with reduced tax revenues and billions of dollars of state funding redeployed to address pandemic-related expenses – many of these valuable state programs are likely to be slashed or eliminated to make up for other budget needs. Providing relief to states for their extraordinary pandemic expenses this year will help alleviate the pressure on state budgets, enabling states to maintain support for programs that meet the needs of farmers and ranchers nationwide.
This is not a hypothetical situation. States and state departments of agriculture are already proposing substantial changes to programs we care about. Examples of programs jeopardized by state budget cuts include:
- In New York, Farmland for a New Generation New York – a national model for bringing a new generation of farmers onto the land – is at risk of being cut. This program provides resources to keep land in farming during this time of intergenerational transition by providing services to support new farmers seeking land and retiring landowners who want to keep their land in farming. Eliminating this program would mean losing over $400,000 in annual services to these farmers, as well as vital support for staff at nearly 30 organizations, including AFT. Since its 2018 launch, 25,000 users have visited the program website, with over 1,500 receiving direct assistance leading to 53 matches of farmers to nearly 2,000 acres of farmland.
- California’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, which is supported by proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions, is intended to be used to further state climate goals. Budget shortfalls could cause the discretionary portion of this funding source to be repurposed to meet other budget needs. As a result, popular programs such as the Healthy Soils Program (HSP) – which trains and incentivizes farmers to implement conservation practices – could be drastically cut or eliminated. In 2020, this program funded 316 HSP incentives totaling $22 million, and 20 demonstration projects totaling $2.9 million. Any cuts to HSP would have an impact on Socially Disadvantaged Farmers who are prioritized to receive 25% of this program’s dedicated funding.
- In Connecticut, the separate funding used for farmland protection from the state’s Community Investment Act account could be at risk of being raided to meet other funding needs within the general budget. Not only would this prevent the state from spending its own dollars on farmland protection, it could deprive the state of access to federal matching funds used for this purpose.
- In Washington State, Pierce County set aside over $1.3 million to support farmers during the pandemic. This included providing personal protective equipment and forgivable loans, purchasing local food for at-risk members of the community, support for farmers markets, and other measures. Without additional federal funding, it is unlikely that the County will be able to offer the same level of support into the new fiscal year.
- Virginia is estimated to face a $2.7 billion shortfall due to the pandemic. This would mean less funding for Agricultural Best Management Practices, which includes incentives for conservation practices such as cover crops. Without federal support, the program will have to operate on just a fraction of its normal funding, likely slowing down efforts to achieve water quality goals in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
These are just a few examples of how the absence of federal aid could limit the ability of state and local governments to serve farmers when they need support most. In short, without additional federal funding for state and local governments, we are risking more farmland being developed, a slowing in the transition to regenerative practices, and lost support for a new generation of farmers.