Protecting Our Food Supply
Since returning to the Capitol on March 27, the Legislature has focused its efforts on passing the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. This week, we passed a $35 billion budget that preserves full funding for K-12 education and maintains essential programs of state government. In my opinion, this was no small feat. With an expected general revenue shortfall of nearly $700 million, we had to trim any fat we could find from discretionary portions of the state budget, while still fulfilling federal Medicaid obligations and providing resources to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
As the Senate Appropriations Committee reviewed budget recommendations from the House of Representatives, I put forward a proposal that I believe took some of my colleagues by surprise. While most of our discussions focused on cutting state spending, I requested a sizable increase. Specifically, I asked that we use a portion of the federal coronavirus relief dollars Missouri will receive to protect our food supply.
The final budget approved by the General Assembly this week includes $20 million to help livestock producers and meat processing facilities address supply chain disruptions and mitigate health and environmental impacts as a result of COVID-19. This additional funding will consist entirely of money the state receives from the federal government as part of coronavirus relief legislation passed by Congress.
While it’s important to understand the coronavirus does not spread through food itself, the sidelining of processing plant employees does threaten America’s food supply. Put simply, if our food production industry shuts down, the nation goes hungry. Citing the role these facilities play in the nation’s critical infrastructure, the president invoked the Defense Production Act and ordered meat and poultry processors to continue operations. In my opinion, it will take more than an order to keep America’s food supply chain operating. It will also require resources.
The $20 million appropriation approved by the Legislature will fund workforce assistance, capital improvements and other support for in-state meat processing facilities with fewer than 200 employees. The money, which comes from the federal coronavirus relief act, will help address supply chain disruptions and mitigate health and environmental impacts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful that my legislative colleagues recognize the serious threats facing Missouri’s agriculture industry and appreciate their willingness to dedicate resources to protect our food supply.
Although the budget occupied most of lawmakers’ time and attentions this past week, we also managed to pass a few bills. One measure that crossed the legislative finish line was my Senate Bill 599. This measure expands the Missouri FIRST linked deposit program and now goes to the governor for his signature.
Administered by the state treasurer, the Missouri FIRST program leverages state reserve funds to provide low-interest loans to small businesses and farms. The loans are made through local banks, using state deposits tied to the loan application. My legislation raises the ceiling on how much state money can be devoted to the program, limits how much of the money can be deposited at any one bank and increases the percentage of loans that can be allocated to small business start-ups and expansion.
Missouri FIRST is an innovative program that puts state money to work in local communities. I believe it’s served Missourians well in the past and will take on even more importance as our state struggles to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. I appreciate the opportunity to work with the state treasurer to expand this program, and I thank my fellow legislators for making the passage of this legislation a priority.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.