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October 30, 2014

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Farm bill’s passage brings $23 million in funding to rural Nevada counties

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

From left, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., talk to reporters about the final work of the Senate as their legislative year nears to a close, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013.

The farm bill, which as a result of the Senate's passage Tuesday will be on the way to President Barack Obama for his signature, brings temporary relief, in the form of $23 million, to rural Nevada counties struggling to raise revenue but unable to tax federal land.

For Sen. Dean Heller, however, the payments in lieu of taxes, or PILT, weren’t enough to earn his support for the overall bill.

“The federal government must do more for Nevada’s rural counties than provide PILT funding piece by piece, from year to year,” Heller said in a statement after the Senate voted 68-32 to pass the bill. “Washington politicians should stop using these rural counties as a political football to secure passage for a massive government expansion.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., acknowledged that Nevada had little interest in the farm bill compared with other states, but he argued that the benefits — PILT, money for disaster and drought relief, and wildfire mitigation on sage grouse habitat — made support for the bill worthwhile.

The farm bill “doesn’t do it all, but it’s complementary to what we’re trying to do,” Reid said of the extra provisions.

But to Heller, the farm bill — a trillion-dollar measure that took two years to negotiate — is too full of subsidies to be worth the price.

“This legislation props up a system of corporate welfare and runaway spending that is simply not sustainable,” Heller said.

The farm bill issues new environmental farming regulations and substitutes a system of government-backed crop insurance for the current system of direct subsidy payments to farmers.

One of the largest portions of the bill is also the funding of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps, which was cut by $8 billion.

That cut is why the bill lost the support of Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., in the House last week.

“The SNAP cuts in the (bill) will further hurt families trying to get back on their feet,” Titus said, citing the $90 monthly cut that about 850,000 food stamp recipients would face in their benefits.

But the cuts, which came primarily from ending a long-running practice of automatically approving individuals receiving home heating assistance for food stamps, are not expected to affect Nevada families.

Reps. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted for the bill in the House, where it passed 251 to 166.

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