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USDA Rural Development Innovation Center Launches Interactive Webpage to Share Best Practices for Rural Economic Development

USDA | Posted on April 25, 2018

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today unveiled a new interactive webpage to identify best practices for building rural prosperity. “Rural communities need forward-thinking strategies to build strong, resilient futures,” Hazlett said. “USDA’s Rural Development Innovation Center is focused on identifying unique opportunities, pioneering new, creative solutions to tough challenges, and making Rural Development’s programs easier to understand, use and access.”The webpage highlights effective strategies that have been used to create jobs, build infrastructure, strengthen partnerships and promote economic development in rural America.An interactive feature allows webpage visitors to submit comments on ways USDA can improve Rural Development program delivery. Innovation Center staff will review these recommendations and direct customers to resources, services and expertise that will help their communities create transformative solutions to complex rural challenges.The webpage also highlights USDA resources that can be used for investments in infrastructure and innovation. These resources include USDA’s Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grant ProgramCommunity Connect Grant Program, and Community Facilities Programs.


House Ag Committee advances farm bill with few farm changes, major SNAP dispute

The Progressive Farmer | Posted on April 19, 2018

After hours of criticism by Democrats on changes to food programs, the House Agriculture Committee passed a farm bill out of committee Wednesday on a strictly partisan 26-20 vote as every Republican voted for the bill and every Democrat opposed it. Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called the legislation "a flawed bill that is the result of a bad and nontransparent process." Peterson said Republicans are on an "ideological crusade" regarding SNAP changes that would turn urban lawmakers against farm programs on the House floor.  Democrats said roughly 1.6 million people would end up removed from SNAP, while states would be required to greatly expand job-training programs that would end up underfunded. Democrats said the cuts were attacks on poor people."We sometimes look at poor people as if they are not taxpayers," said Rep Al Lawson, D-Fla. "They pay a higher cost of food than most of us here." Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., chairman of the nutrition subcommittee, said changes in nutrition programs aren't about saving money, but getting good policy."We want to look at good policy to help our neighbors in need who find themselves in a tough circumstance," Thompson said. He added, "No one is kicking them off of SNAP because of mandatory work requirements," though if people do not participate in job training or get a job, then they do not participate in SNAP. The House bill would eliminate new signups under USDA's largest conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program. Two amendments had some extended debate. One was by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who has pushed for nearly eight years for his "Protect Interstate Commerce Act," which is meant to target states that require agricultural standards beyond federal law.Specifically, King criticized California's law that requires eggs imported into the state to meet the same cage-space requirements and standards California imposes on eggs produced in the state. King said the Founding Fathers expected the states to have a free-trade zone amongst each other that is blocked by such laws. Denham and King then had another back-and-forth over Denham's amendment to make it a felony to knowingly slaughter a dog or cat for human consumption, or import a dog or cat for human consumption.


The Facts About Food Stamp Fraud

Forbes | Posted on April 19, 2018

There's too much misinformation about the U.S. government's food stamp scheme. So after some investigation, here are some facts about the benefit, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).The takeaway is that food stamp fraud ballooned during the four years through 2016 but that it still represents a tiny percentage of the program. How much did fraud grow? It jumped to $592.7 million in 2016, up a staggering 61% from $367.1 million in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The monetary figures are "Fraud Dollars Determined By Investigations." In other words, these figures are based on identified incidents. In 2016, the number of fraud investigations totaled 963,965, up more than 30% from 2012. In simple terms, if you swapped your benefits for cash, etc., or lied about your income or assets, then that's fraud. The fraud totals include what would have been given as a benefit if it had gone undetected, or what the government could recover, the USDA says. If you are concerned, then consider the following. The total cost of the SNAP benefits disbursed in 2016 was $66.5 billion, down from $74.6 billion in 2012. Those are significant figures because America is a big country.


First Amendment: Skim Milk Labeling Leads Maryland Dairy to Sue FDA

Dairy Herd Management | Posted on April 19, 2018

A Maryland dairy farm with its own milk bottling business is suing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration over the labeling of skim milk and if it violates the First Amendment. A lawsuit was filed by the non-profit group the Institute for Justice with Randy and Karen Sowers, owners of South Mountain Creamery near Frederick, Maryland, on April 5 against the FDA. At issue is South Mountain Creamery’s labeling of skim milk. The dairy milks 550 cows and bottles milk on-farm selling to about 5,000 customers. South Mountain Creamery is attempting to sell pasteurized, all-natural skim milk in Pennsylvania. However, the FDA wants the milk to be labeled as “imitation skim milk” or “imitation milk product” because it does not contain added vitamins.


EU moves to ban sale of lower-quality branded food in eastern Europe

The Guardian | Posted on April 19, 2018

Brussels wants to make it illegal for food and drink multinationals to sell inferior versions of well-known brands to customers in eastern Europe, after studies suggested hundreds of products were involved in the practice. An EU directive banning so-called “dual food” was announced on Wednesday following longstanding complaints from member states in central and eastern Europe. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, HiPP baby food, Birds Eye, Lidl and Spar have denied accusations of selling lower quality goods in the east bearing identical branding to products sold in western Europe. Persil and Ariel have been accused of selling a less effective washing product formula in eastern Europe, a claim they also refute. The European commission will next month provide member states with a methodology for testing multinational brands, so that the real culprits can be identified. 


AG Jeff Sessions halts free legal assistance program for detained immigrants

Dallas News | Posted on April 19, 2018

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has suspended a free legal assistance program for detained immigrants who need  basic advice as their cases wind their way through court. "Every day this program is not in operation puts family unity at risk, harms our communities, and infringes on the right of all people to make informed decisions about their legal claims," the Vera Institute said in a statement Wednesday. It said the program was cost-efficient and helped curb the record backlog of nearly 700,000 cases in the nation's immigration courts.   They also called the program a "lifeline for many immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, and green-card holders —some who are fighting for their lives — who would otherwise not know the rights they have or the odds they face." 


US manufacturers seek relief from steel and aluminum tariffs

ABC News | Posted on April 19, 2018

Rising costs. Delayed shipments. A baffling bureaucracy. President Donald Trump's tariffs on imported aluminum and steel are disrupting business for American companies that buy those metals, and many are pressing for relief.Hundreds of companies are asking the Commerce Department to exempt them from the 25 percent steel tariff and the 10 percent aluminum tariff.Other companies are weighing their options. Jody Fledderman, CEO of Batesville Tool & Die in Indiana, says American steelmakers have already raised their prices since Trump's tariffs were announced last month. Fledderman says he may have to shift production to a plant in Mexico, where he can buy cheaper steel. A group of small- and medium-size manufacturers gathered in Washington to announce a new group — the Coalition of American Metal Manufacturers and Users — to fight the steel tariff.


SCOTUS nixes part of law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of some crimes

CNN | Posted on April 19, 2018

The Supreme Court on Tuesday invalidated a provision of federal law that requires the mandatory deportation of immigrants who have been convicted of some "crimes of violence," holding that the law is unconstitutionally vague.The case, Sessions v. Dimaya, had originated during the Obama administration but had been closely watched to see if the justices would reveal how they will consider the Trump administration's overall push to both limit immigration and increase deportations. As expected after the oral argument, Justice Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices for the first time since joining the court to produce a 5-4 majority invalidating the federal statute. In doing so, Gorsuch was continuing the jurisprudence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who also sided with liberals when it came to the vagueness of statutes used to convict criminal defendants.


Farm Bill Ties Food Stamps to Work, Adjusts Farm Aid

Roll Call | Posted on April 19, 2018

The House Agriculture Committee released its 2018 farm bill Thursday with proposals to reshape the nation’s largest domestic food aid program, consolidate conservation efforts and tweak farm aid. The bill arrives amid controversy over its focus on shifting funding within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, into work and training programs. It does not have the support of Democrats, who worry that some states could use the tougher work requirements in the bill to push thousands out of the program by making it difficult to meet the terms. “It makes no sense to put the farmers and rural communities who rely on the farm bill’s safety net programs at risk in pursuit of partisan ideology on SNAP,” the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement Thursday. “Between record low farm incomes, and the escalating threat of a trade war and other market disruptions, farmers have enough to worry about. Breaking up the long-standing, bipartisan, urban-rural farm bill alliance is a dangerous and unproductive step that will only sow division and jeopardize both this and future farm bills.”


Trump tweet appears to back away from rejoining TPP

Capital Press | Posted on April 19, 2018

President Donald Trump this week appeared to extinguish the glimmer of hope he offered U.S. farmers last week over rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty. After meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida, Trump suggested there was one area where they would have to agree to disagree: the TPP, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of days after his inauguration, but has recently said he might be open to rejoining.“While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don’t like the deal for the United States,” Trump tweeted following a dinner with Abe and their wives. “Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn’t work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers.”


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