Michigan lawmakers pledge to save crop insurance program
Washington — Farm-state lawmakers were unhappy this week over cuts to the federal crop insurance subsidy included in the budget deal approved by Congress, but committee leaders in both chambers say the provision will be replaced as part of the upcoming omnibus package.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, voted for the budget deal on Friday but said she opposes cutting the crop insurance subsidy. Stabenow and committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, are working together on a solution, she said.
“The proposed changes to crop insurance in the budget agreement undermine a critical tool used by our farmers and ranchers,” Stabenow said in a statement.
The bipartisan budget agreement that passed the House and Senate this week would offset the cost of new spending in part by cutting $3 billion from the crop insurance program over 10 years.
The federal program pays a subsidy to reduce premiums charged to producers by insurers, and insures some of their losses. The budget provision would effectively lower the rate of return for insurers selling policies to farmers.
“The long-term effect of that would very easily affect the access and availability (of insurance policies) to farmers,” said John Kran, national legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau.
“This was part of something that was agreed on as part of a five-year Farm Bill, and to change it midstream isn’t really fair to people who have made business decisions – whether it’s the farmer or the crop insurance agent – for that time period, expecting this is the way it would be.”
The Farm Bureau reached out to members of the Michigan congressional delegation to express their concern and are optimistic that lawmakers will work out the problem, Kran said.
“Leadership has heeded our concerns by agreeing to completely reverse this disastrous provision in the upcoming omnibus,” House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said in a statement.
“Crop insurance is working as intended, and private industry deserves to be lauded, not thrown under the bus.”
Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, said the crop insurance subsidy cuts were among the reasons he voted against the budget deal.
“It just adds to the uncertainty that our farmers face in terms of crop insurance,” said Moolenaar, who sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
“So many factors are out of (farmers’) control, whether it’s prices, or it’s weather. To add more uncertainty really hurts the heartland.”
He was glad that his concerns might be resolved in a future omnibus bill but, like the budget deal itself, “those agreements – you don’t have a chance to vet them,” Moolenaar said.