IFPA pushes immigration reform, child nutrition, but Boozman cool
The International Fresh Produce Association has made immigration reform and reauthorization of child nutrition programs two of its highest priorities, but when Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee, spoke to the group on Sept. 27 during its recent Washington meeting, he reacted coolly to questions about those two issues.
Asked about immigration reform, Boozman said that it is necessary “to secure the border first.” Otherwise, he said, immigration reform makes the United States “even more of a magnet than it is now.”
Boozman said that he has visited the U.S.-Mexico border and “the Border Patrol is overwhelmed by the numbers.”
“This administration is not willing to secure the border, so it makes the problem harder to solve,” Boozman said.
Asked when Congress will reauthorize child nutrition programs, Boozman said, “I don’t know when it is going to happen.” He added that he and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbi Stabenow, D-Mich., are committed to reauthorizing the programs.
“The good news is that we are still providing the money through appropriations,” he said.
He noted that current child nutrition programs are based on “ideas from the ’60s” such as congregate feeding (feeding people in groups). He added that during the pandemic people were able to get food in non-congregate settings and said Congress needs to put that into legislative text.
Boozman also said that if he were asked five years ago about the next farm bill he would have said it would be tweaked, but with the current problems of inflation, input costs, lack of labor and supply chain issues, “now I don’t know.”
Noting that what used to be regarded as 200-year weather events “are happening every other year,” Boozman said Congress needs to look at the safety nets in agriculture and see how they can be improved so that as these events occur “you know help will be on the way and we don’t have to figure out a mechanism to get it done.”
Asked about whether there will be action on climate issues, Boozman said, “Agriculture is at the forefront” and that Congress will provide research money to address the issue.
But he added, “I think we have to be really careful — what I won’t do is hooking climate” to eligibility for farm programs.
After the session with Boozman, IFPA members held a training session with staff before heading to Capitol Hill for a day of lobbying.
One of the key asks that IFPA took to the Hill was reauthorization of child nutrition programs so that the fresh fruit and vegetable program could be expanded to more schools.
Another was Senate passage of the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act, an immigration reform measure. John Hollay, IFPA director of government relations, told members they could tell Congress that the bill could be considered “the first step toward securing the border” because it contains a provision requiring verification of farm workers.
In an interview, Dave Puglia, president of Western Growers, and a key IFPA member, said he is “not naive about the prospects” of immigration reform passing during the lame duck session, but noted that Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., one of the sponsors, has said it is “as ripe as we’ve ever had it” since it has passed the House and needs only 10 Republicans to pass the Senate.
Asked if his members would punish senators who do not vote for it, Puglia said that’s not possible because all the senators in the states where Western Growers members live – California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico – are Democrats who support the Farm Worker Modernization Act.
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