This vote was on an amendment that would have cut funding and changed the eligibility requirements for federal grants that support agriculture-related businesses.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that authorizes federal programs that assist farmers and low-income Americans. Sen. Ayotte’s bill was aimed at reforming a federal program that provides grants to “value-added” agricultural businesses such as grain processers, ethanol producers, and other companies closely tied to farming. Sen. Ayotte’s amendment would have cut funding for the program in half, from $40 million to $20 million per year, and tightened restrictions on the kinds of companies eligible to receive the grants. Her amendment would have barred ethanol producers from participating in the program.
Sen. Ayotte argued that the value-added grant program was marred by waste. For example, many grant recipients go out of business within a few years of receiving a grant, she said. She also criticized the program for supporting companies such as ethanol producers and wineries.
“The USDA has awarded $240 million in grants over the lifetime of this program, but the USDA has not been transparent and has failed to adequately account for the grants and how they are awarded,” Sen. Ayotte said. “This is a good amendment for taxpayers to reform this program and make it accountable.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) opposed the amendment, arguing that the value-added grant program encouraged innovation and development of new products that strengthen the U.S. agriculture industry.
“(Sen. Ayotte’s amendment) cuts in half funding for a program that helps food entrepreneurs – small businesses and farmers who want to create new kinds of products and to commercialize them and get them to the marketplace,” Sen. Stabenow said. “This is really what we are trying to do – to leverage more dollars in this bill to support not only the farmer on the farm but also to move into commercialization and to create new food products and jobs.”
Sen. Ayotte’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 38-61. Voting “yea” were 37 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Voting “nay” were 52 Democrats and 9 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to cut funding and change the eligibility requirements for federal grants that support agriculture-related businesses.