Bob Etheridge: Trump’s and GOP’s proposed budget cuts would hit farmers, seniors

*Originally appeared in Winston-Salem Journal. Please follow link for full article.
 

When it comes to our national and state priorities, it’s been said that a budget is a moral document. A budget is a statement of public commitments and considerations for its people.

After taking a look at President Trump’s FY18 budget proposal, I have to question this administration’s public commitments to many of the voters who supported his candidacy, especially North Carolina’s farmers, rural residents and retirees.

Let’s start with agriculture. Farming has been a staple of North Carolina’s existence since before we were founded as a state in 1789. Through the years, our state’s agricultural products have reached every corner of the nation. Through helpful coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), North Carolina farmers have survived through droughts, natural disasters and financial and environmental risks.

Our state consistently ranks as one of the top five producers of sweet potatoes, pork, poultry, tobacco and eggs. And it doesn’t stop there. Along with these other commodities, North Carolina’s farmers produce and sell cotton, soybeans, peanuts, nursery products, aquaculture products, biofuels and more. Our state feeds the nation and our food exports can be found in other countries as well.

So what does the Trump budget proposal do for the state’s consumers and farmers? It doesn’t simply make a cut here or there. Trump’s budget actually punishes our farmers and makes it harder for them to get their products to market. Overall, the Trump budget proposal cuts the U.S. Department of Agriculture by a staggering 21 percent. Part of that cut would cap the amount of money the government provides to help local farmers pay insurance premiums. The Trump budget eliminates coverage for lost revenue when crop prices and crop yields decline. Trump wants to eliminate $28 billion over ten years from this program, and the effect on local farmers would be devastating.

How does this impact to our local farmers affect all of us at home? Ask yourself – does your family like to eat? Do you like food that is reasonably priced? When unforeseen weather events occur – be they droughts, hurricanes or pests – a farmer’s yield is often negatively impacted.

Sometimes their yield is impacted in a way that drives them out of farming. Most farmers are far from rich. Instead, many growers farm from season to season producing good products and then preparing for the next season. When an unforeseen weather event occurs, there is a small degree of assurance they get in knowing that the federal government will provide a reasonable amount of money to help them recover and produce more of America’s food for the next season.

When this support disappears, farmers are forced out of business, rural communities lose family farms and business owners who service the rural economy all take a hit. Less food makes it to market and families pay higher prices for everyday food items they used to take for granted.

It’s important to support our agricultural economy and rural communities, which Trump’s budget fails to do, because the sector makes up about 17 percent of North Carolina’s total economy and 11 percent of total U.S. employment, or about 21 million jobs.

But Trump would cut not just resources to farmers, he would slash resources for rural communities, too. Trump wants to eliminate the rural development program which brings infrastructure, technology, and utilities to those communities. If you weaken the farmers and eliminate rural infrastructure and technology, what’s left?

The USDA’s chief economist, Robert Johansson, told U.S. Senators in June, “The strength of the agricultural economy has implications for rural America, but also for the larger U.S. economy.”

These are words we should all heed.

Seniors are at the other end of the spectrum, but they are also under attack. Senate Republicans are proposing to slash Medicare spending by $473 billion over ten years and are confident in their efforts. What does this have to do with Trump? The Republican push to cut Medicare obliterates one of Donald Trump’s key campaign promises to protect seniors. Even worse, the Republican Congressional plan to cut Medicare has been public for months and Trump has said little about it at his political rallies.

Yes, elections do have consequences, but slashing budgets will devastate communities, raise prices on our food for families and leave seniors still struggling eight years after the great recession.

If you’re reading this and wondering what you can do, there’s plenty. Only public input and outrage can stop this march towards higher food prices and abandonment of our seniors. Learn more about the Trump and Congressional budget cuts and what they mean to you. Then call your member of Congress. They need to hear from you today.

Bob Etheridge is a former Congressman from North Carolina and former Executive Director of the North Carolina Farm Service Agency Office – USDA.