Farm Progress

Also: Working Lands Climate Corps and CDFI modernization

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

February 20, 2024

4 Min Read
U.S. capitol building with flag background
Getty Images/franckreporter

There’s never a shortage of agriculture news. Here are a few policy stories you may have missed over the past week.

Nebraska joins summer EBT program

Nebraska Republican Governor Jim Pillen announced his state will become the 37th to participate in USDA’s new Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for children. The program, which begins this summer, provides benefits to low-income families with children during the summer months. USDA estimates that more than 30 million children across the country are eligible for the Summer EBT program.

Pillen had previously stated that Nebraska would not take part in the programs. After facing significant pushback from many people in his state, he reversed course and said the state has developed a “Nebraska solution” that will ensure the needs of the state’s children and families are better addressed.

“We simply must do better in Nebraska to enhance the quality of life and the quality of interaction with kids and their families during the summer months,” Pillen says. “This program will make sure that happens.”

South Dakota approves E15 tax refund

The South Dakota Legislature overwhelmingly adopted a bill that provides a five-cent per gallon incentive for E15 fuel. The incentives, which apply to the calendar years 2025 through 2029, are intended to encourage more fuel retailers to offer E15 and replace obsolete equipment as needed.

The bill passed by a margin of 33-0 in the State Senate and 64-1 in the State House. Governor Kristi Noem signed it into law on Feb. 15.

“Renewable fuels are a very important part of America’s all-of-the-above energy supply, and ethanol is vital to South Dakota’s future. The Biden Administration’s policies have driven gas prices up for South Dakotans, and this bill will provide our citizens with needed relief,” Noem says. “It will make higher ethanol blends more readily available, bringing prices down at the pump. We’re committed to an all-of-the-above approach to energy that doesn’t pick winners and losers but lowers prices for all South Dakotans.”

USDA announces Working Lands Climate Corps

USDA announced a new initiative to train young leaders in climate and conservation practices. The Working Lands Climate Corp will provide technical training and opportunities for career paths. USDA will partner with AmeriCorps, The Corps Network and the National Association of Conservation Districts to create service opportunities for more than 100 young people.

The initiative is part of the Biden administration’s American Climate Corps Initiatives, which looks to train young people in skills needed for jobs in the clean energy economy.

“As part of President Biden’s historic American Climate Corps initiative, USDA’s new Working Lands Climate Corps will train a new generation of Americans to help tackle climate change in rural communities across the country,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Xochitl Torres Small says. “This program will provide a pathway to continue to build a workforce of people who understand these programs and their promise to support the delivery of billions of dollars in climate-smart agriculture funding made available through President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, putting them on a pathway into good paying careers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Bipartisan House bill aims to modernize CDFI program  

Rep. Zach Nunn, R- Iowa, and Don Davis, D- N.C, introduced legislation they say will modernize the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institution program. The Rural Credit Access Act would institute a process to notify a CDFI institution if they are at risk of losing their certifications for reasons other than fraud or inappropriate behavior. The legislation would create an Ombudsman’s Office to help financial institutions navigate the CDFI application process. In cases where there is evidence of fraud, CDFIs would be prohibited from participating in arbitration.

There are currently more than 1,400 CDFIs across the country. These are financial institutions, including banks, credit unions, loan and venture capital providers, that use funds to assist low-income communities. Bill supporters say the Rural Credit Access Act will bring more transparency to the process and better protect taxpayer funds.

According to Nunn, small towns are often overlooked. He says he’s made it his mission in Congress to put them first.

“CDFIs play a critical role in supporting rural small businesses, community centers, schools, and more that may otherwise be considered too risky to receive loans,” Nunn says. “By improving this program, we can continue to strengthen rural communities by generating jobs and creating new opportunities for families at a time when that investment is needed.”

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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