March 22, 2017

The Real Questions for Sonny Perdue

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On Thursday, the U.S. Senate will hold confirmation hearings for Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia and President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

This is a critical Cabinet appointment because the USDA’s influence and purview is so far-reaching. The USDA plays a leading role in setting policy that deals with everything from farming and rural development to nutrition and SNAP.

Mr. Perdue’s nomination appears to have broad-based support and industry backing, and all indications point to Mr. Perdue being confirmed as the next Secretary of Agriculture. That said, as the hearings proceed, there exist at least three questions for which the Senate Agriculture committee should demand answers. It is imperative that the American public know what they can expect from Mr. Perdue and hold the Secretary accountable as required.  

1. HOW DO YOU INTEND TO PROTECT RURAL AMERICA?
Countless hours of broadcast airtime and many column-inches in newspapers have illustrated the plight of those who live in rural and remote communities. We know that the President’s campaign messages particularly resonated for this audience, and that they came out in droves to support him. Theirs is a devastating story of vast and pervasive job losses, crumbling infrastructure and insufficient education.

These rural and remote residents need and deserve to have their concerns be taken seriously, and we owe it to them to do everything we can so they are no longer left behind in our economic growth. The President’s “skinny” budget proposal and the GOP health plan would have harmful consequences for Americans living in rural communities.

How would you, as Secretary of Agriculture, push back on such proposals and stand up for the interests of rural Americans? 

2. WHAT ARE YOUR INTENTIONS FOR THE SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)? 
Forty-two million Americans struggle with food insecurity. It is crucial to have a Secretary of Agriculture who is a strong advocate for strengthening and improving our federal nutrition assistance programs—not weakening or dismantling them. SNAP is the flagship program of the 15 nutrition programs that fall under the USDA’s purview. It is the largest and most impactful anti-hunger initiative in the nation, positively impacting the health and well-being of tens of millions of people. With the average SNAP recipient receiving benefits for just nine months, the program acts as a hand up instead of a handout.

Despite its success, SNAP is under constant attack from legislators who want to slash funding, subject it to draconian structural changes, or both. Should either of these circumstances come to pass, the impacts would be devastating for low-income families, senior citizens, veterans and others who are simply trying to get by and put nutritious food on the table each day. 

How will you be a leader to champion the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who struggle with food insecurity and receive critical help from effective programs such as SNAP?                  
                 
3. WHAT WILL YOU DO TO HELP ENSURE PASSAGE OF A COMPREHENSIVE AND ROBUST FARM BILL IN 2018?
Authorized roughly every five years, the Farm Bill establishes policy that impacts multiple and diverse interests and priorities. Although this bill is written and authorized by Congress, the Secretary of Agriculture is usually considered to be an expert in everything under the department’s purview and plays a significant role in providing information and recommendations that can help to inform and encourage its passage. 

Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mr. Perdue’s predecessor as Secretary of Agriculture from 2009 until 2017, set an exemplary standard for leadership by balancing the interests of all the constituencies that the USDA represents. These seemingly disparate groups need the next Secretary of Agriculture to be a strong advocate for a unified Farm Bill to ensure that our nation’s farming, conservation and nutrition priorities are appropriately addressed.

Will you stand up to Members of Congress who attempt to split the Farm Bill and weaken all the important programs that it supports?

It is likely a foregone conclusion as to who our nation’s next Secretary of Agriculture will be. He, like every other Cabinet-level appointee, serves at the pleasure of the president. But really, his imminent service is to the American public, so let’s make sure he intends to lead an agriculture department that furthers the interests of all Americans.