WASHINGTON (DTN) -- With immigration plans thwarted by the Senate parliamentarian, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow on Wednesday urged members of the United Fresh Produce Association to emphasize the importance of immigration reform when they meet with senators on Capitol Hill this week.
Early in a speech at United Fresh's Washington conference, Stabenow, D-Mich., urged the fruit and vegetable growers to "please be loud" when discussing the importance of immigration reform.
Stabenow later returned to the topic, saying that she would like to "make headway" on immigration reform in the reconciliation bill, "But it appears we won't be able to do that."
Earlier this week, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that immigration policy could not be included in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that congressional Democrats are crafting. That likely keeps any immigration bill at a stalemate in a 50-50 Senate with Republicans focusing heavily on surges of people trying to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. The parliamentarian concluded immigration reform was too broad of a policy to include in a bill meant to focus on budget issues.
Stabenow, in her speech, emphasized again to leaders in the fruit and vegetable industries that they should be "as loud as possible" in telling senators that the industry needs "a steady, reliable source of workers."
"We don't need crops rotting in the fields because there are not enough workers," Stabenow said.
"The House has passed a very good labor bill," but action is needed in the Senate, she said. Without agriculture "being focused and loud," action is unlikely to happen, she added.
In other comments, Stabenow noted that conservation programs in the reconciliation bill are needed to address climate change and the extreme weather that farmers have experienced.
Stabenow thanked United Fresh for supporting her Growing Climate Solutions bill, which she said got 92 votes, even more than the last farm bill.
Stabenow said she is now focused on the budget reconciliation bill, which includes provisions to address climate change.
Not doing anything on climate change, Stabenow said, means "paying an awful lot for not acting." The same money that is going for disaster aid could be used to address climate change.
Agriculture and forestry are responsible for about 10% of U.S. carbon emissions, but the sector could be "carbon negative," she added.
The budget bill, she said, would include money for research that would include "the unique needs of specialty crop growers" and provide money for more children to get free meals in school. The bill would mean that about 85% of children who must fill out paperwork to get free or reduced-price meals would get them automatically, she said.
"Think of all the half-cups of fruit and vegetables that would be used," she added, referring to school meal programs.
The bill would also provide EBT cards for families to buy food for children in the summer and salad bars and other equipment so that schools could prepare food from scratch, she added.
Stabenow noted that she and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member, are working on the reauthorization of child nutrition programs but did not mention a schedule for consideration of that bill.
The farm bill is coming up in 2023, she noted. That seems like a long time away, she said, but said it "feels just around the corner" for the committee. Before the end of the year, she said, she will be reaching out to stakeholders to find out what they want and need.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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