U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet visited Hayden on Thursday evening to talk about the 2014 farm bill that was signed into law by President Barack Obama at the beginning of February.
The new farm bill carries many changes: $23 billion in deficit reductions, consolidations of programs, and it secured payment in lieu of taxes funding among other things. The law has a five-year lifespan, so Congress will not need to tackle it again until 2019.
Giving the bill a five-year lifespan was important, Bennet said.
“Even if we don’t like the rules all the time, at least we know what they are and can plan around them,” he said.
Routt County Commissioner Steve Ivancie expressed concerns about PILT funding. The federal government compensates counties with public lands for maintaining the infrastructure of those lands. Moffat County gets about $550,000 in PILT while Routt County receives almost $1.5 million. PILT traditionally was attached to the budget, but it was dropped and put onto the farm bill instead. Even though it was latched onto a five-year bill, PILT funding still is only guaranteed for one year — to be debated again in a year.
“We are concerned that it’s only for one year,” Ivancie said.
Bennet agreed that PILT was a high priority since Colorado is the fifth-largest consumer of PILT funds. When it was kicked off the omnibus budget bill, Bennet said he spoke directly with the agricultural committee to address the issue.
“We went to the chair of the agriculture committee and said this is horribly destructive for our folks,” he said.
While relieved it became part of the farm bill, it still needed a more permanent status, Bennet said.
“Now we need to find a vehicle for attaching a five-year program or longer,” he said.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers said he was glad Bennet avidly supported PILT funding, but he was concerned about how the White House would handle sage grouse issues. The birds are being considered for possibly being identified as threatened species or endangered species. This listing would impact rural Colorado and how private landowners and businesses could operate on sage grouse lands.
While Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife expressed interest in a collaborative solution, Mathers said he still was concerned the listing will happen without much consideration for rural Colorado.
“We’re a little skeptical that the White House will make this decision anyway,” he said. “We’re actually on an incline with sage grouse, not a decline.”
Bennet said he was on rural Colorado’s side.
“I hear the frustration, and I agree with it,” he said. “Whatever we can do, we will.”
Bennet also highlighted some of the research programs that will be funded with the new farm bill: A $200 million seed grant will help launch programs for a research foundation to look into specialty and organic crops, he said.
This led to Bennet addressing food stamps, which saw $8 billion in cuts with the farm bill. Luckily, he said, these cuts wouldn’t affect Colorado because the state’s food stamp program didn’t have the same redundancies that other states’ did.
It is an important program, and while debated, still ought to be funded to combat poverty and hunger, he said.
“It is actually one of the least susceptible programs to fraud that we have. Twenty-three percent of children live in poverty in this country. We are in this horrible moment where we have worse income inequality since 1928,” he said. “In the meantime, you’re on the front lines dealing with families who never in a million years expected to be on (food stamps) and don’t even want people to know they’re on" food stamps.
Bennet also discussed the immigration reform bill that would create a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants while enhancing border security.
“We spent more money on border enforcement than all other law enforcement combined,” he said.
Bennet pressed that he needed input and advice from his constituents.
“Please help us because we can’t get it done without your help,” he said.
Contact Erin Fenner at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.