Tallahassee Democrat: Congressman Al Lawson calls Trump's Ag budget unacceptable
Trumps wants to cut SNAP, research money and aid to rural communities
Congressman Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, went to Monticello Thursday to rally the countryside against President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. As outlined by U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, Trump wants to cut spending for farmers and aid to rural communities by more than 20 percent.
Lawson also warned a gathering of 60 growers, extension agents and academics about proposed changes to the Rural Development program within the U.S.D.A. and a rewrite of the nation’s agriculture policy.
Speaking to voters in a barn off Boston Highway, the first-term congressman called the president’s proposal for farms and rural communities “simply” or “basically unacceptable" five times within eight minutes of his opening remarks.
“All the president wants to do is cut,” Lawson said about the proposals that have emerged from the White House over the past five months. “We need to get to work for our farmers to provide the jobs to feed America,” added Lawson, who sits on the Agriculture Committee.
Budget hawks in Congress want to reduce spending for the next fiscal year beginning in September. Among their proposals is a four-year $20 billion reduction to the food assistance program, which provides groceries for low-income families. A $2.5 billion cut in crop insurance subsidies and a $360 million, (26 percent) cut to USDA-funded research also are proposed.
In addition, Lawson opposes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue's move to make the director of the Rural Development program a political appointee not subject to Senate confirmation. His staff distributed letters he has written to Trump administration officials protesting the policies they outlined in committee testimony.
Many of those in the audience shared Lawson's concerns.
Andy Jackson grows citrus on 20 acres in Taylor County. He produces a strand with sturdier roots he said took years to develop to withstand a climate north of the traditional citrus belt. He called the Trump administration's proposals shortsighted.
“You can’t just cut funding for research and say we’ve done enough,” Jackson said while waiting for Lawson to arrive. “You can never do enough (research).”
Jim Spratt, a Leon County vegetable grower, said he made the drive to Jefferson County to express his concern about the specialty crops program. It falls under the farm bill, which among other things, designates commodities. There’s a push to once again include cotton. Spratt also wonders about the future of funding assistance to comply with clean water regulations.
“I’m worried about where they are going to land (on these proposals),” said Spratt.
Lawson told the crowd that chief among his concerns were the cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. He pointed out one in four residents in the 5th Congressional District get food through SNAP. He also mentioned there are elementary schools in his district where the entire student population is on subsidized breakfast and lunch programs. Lawson said Tallahassee cafeteria workers have told him they put food in students’ backpacks on Friday so they can eat over the weekend.
He explained the president’s proposals were at odds with his goal to put Florida farmers in a position to “feed Florida and America.”
“The way to feed America is to understand what you are doing,” said Lawson. “The president just doesn’t understand. We have some work to do.”
Lawson also unofficially kicked off his reelection campaign Thursday. He has yet to file for the 2018 election but a fundraiser for the Congressman was held in Tallahassee after the Monticello roundtable.
Lawson wrestled the Democratic nomination from Jacksonville Congresswoman Corrine Brown last year but underperformed in Jacksonville, where the biggest block of district voters live. The iconic Brown, who was convicted later of fraud-related charges, scored 60 percent of the Jacksonville vote indicating Lawson may be vulnerable in the River City.