Merkley, Wyden announce investments in rural Oregon as key bill passes full Senate

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill budgets for important programs in the next fiscal year

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley, who is the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, and Ron Wyden today announced that the Senate Agriculture Appropriations bill that will help Oregon’s rural communities has passed the full Senate as part of a 2019 funding package.

“Even in this polarized era, we’re working on a bipartisan basis to invest in rural America and rural Oregon,” Merkley said. “Between bolstering rural broadband, investing in rural wastewater systems; delivering energy savings opportunities to folks in rural America, and more, we can make a real difference for rural America.”

“Dependable, affordable and high-speed broadband is a must for rural Oregon families and businesses working to compete globally in the digital world and create good-paying jobs at home,” Wyden said. “This bill takes a much-needed step toward achieving that broadband goal as well as meeting other key rural goals, such as protecting clean water, allowing Oregon farmers to grow hemp, encouraging new uses for timber products and fighting for farmers and ranchers by improving soil health and conserving critical resources.”

Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.

Key elements of the legislation that will impact Oregon include:

Rural Broadband: The bill includes an additional $425 million investment for 2019, building on the previous fiscal year’s investment of $600 million. Together, Congress has provided $1.25 billion for grants and loans to expand broadband in rural areas that don’t have sufficient access or service. The funding is expected to leverage billions more in grants and loans.

Rural Development: The bill protects funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs which President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year. In addition, Merkley was able to secure a $6 million increase for grants for rural business development for 2019.

Rural Water and Waste Disposal Systems: The bill includes an additional $400 million for 2019, building on last fiscal year’s investment of $500 million. Together, the program has received approximately $900 million in additional funding to support loans and grants for clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems in rural communities. Over $2.2 billion in loans and grants are provided, which will assist over 4.2 million rural residents.

Mass Timber Products: The advanced wood products program at USDA received $3.5 million for work on mass timber products that would enhance Oregon State University’s cutting-edge research.

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: The bill includes significant increases to funding for organic and sustainable agriculture programs. The USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program received $37 million, a $2 million increase from last fiscal year. The National Organic Program received $15 million — a $3 million increase — to develop and enforce the country’s standards for organically produced agricultural products. The Organic Transitions Program, which is dedicated to helping farmers transition from conventional to organic farming practices, received $6 million — a $1 million increase.

Rural Energy Savings Program: Funding for the program, which Merkley created, was increased by $2 million and will leverage an additional $14 million for energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in rural communities, bringing the total leveraged amount to over $71 million. The bill also continued language from last year that allows the program to offer low-interest loans for replacing existing manufactured housing with new, energy-efficient manufactured housing in rural communities.

Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of almost $100 million in funding to for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, the bill includes funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on alfalfa, pear, wheat, hops, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast.

Industrial Hemp: The bill protects Oregon’s growing hemp industry by prohibiting the federal government from interfering with hemp research projects or with legally produced hemp products, and encourages the USDA to support industrial hemp research by informing researchers of their eligibility for funding. Oregon has enacted laws allowing for the cultivation of industrial hemp, which can be used to make everything from rope and cloth to oil and soap.

Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: For the third consecutive year, the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program received $150 million, including funding for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative process underway in the Deschutes Basin to conserve water and improve the habitat of the spotted frog, helping to keep Central Oregon family farms in business.

The bill passed the floor on Wednesday. The next step for the bill is to be merged with a counterpart bill from the U.S. House of Representatives in order to be passed by both houses and signed into law.