How will the Farm Bill impact southwest Florida?
Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are calling the farm bill a significant victory. But southwest Florida Republican Francis Rooney is calling it something else.
“I think it’s definitely a waste of money for where we live,” Congressman Rooney said.
Rooney was one of only 47 congresspersons who voted against the bill. His main objection is what he calls, the “bloated subsidies,” for sugar companies.
“They are not very constructive with helping us with their private land for the EAA reservoir, things like that,” Rooney said, referring to the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir. “So I got a wonder why should the taxpayers be subsidizing an industry, which doesn’t really create a food anyway? It creates a toxin.”
Two companies, in particular, U.S. Sugar Corporation and Florida Crystals, own the majority of land south of Lake Okeechobee. It is where a $1.4 billion reservoir is slated to be built.
They said they had been unfairly blamed for contributing to the water quality crisis. In a statement today, the companies rejected the notion that they are receiving subsidies.
“American sugar policy is designed to operate at zero taxpayer cost,” the companies said, “and as a result, there are no direct subsidies or payments of any kind to sugar beet or sugarcane growers.”
The question many are wondering is who is right. Legal expert Pamella Seay said it depends on how a person defines, “subsidy.”
“Is it supporting the industry?” Seay said, an attorney with her private practice and a Justice Studies professor at FGCU. “It certainly is. Is it a subsidy? Not exactly. But if it’s used to support it then yeah, I guess technically it is a subsidy.”
Under the new bill, sugar companies will receive loans from the government that they will have to pay back with interest.
The government will also maintain an active role in regulating the amount of sugar that is imported from other countries.
Rooney said that is unneeded interference.
“At the end of the day, it works better when people can live in an unsubsidized free market,” Rooney said. “That’s what we are supposed to be all about.”
Despite Rooney’s objections, President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law sometime soon.