Agriculture and Housing
As a result of the omnibus budget bill not being signed into law last session, money appropriated to the MN Farm Advocate program was not approved. Additionally, money for mental health counseling support was not approved. While there were some legislative disappointments for agriculture, money was approved for the Rural Finance Authority.
Housing received money but many of the policy proposals were eliminated as a result of the provisions being included in the omnibus budget bill, which was vetoed by Governor Dayton.
What has happened in this issue area since last session?
Compounding the problem of low commodity prices, tariffs imposed by China have taken a heavy toll on farmers. The number of bankruptcy filings has increased as a result of the financial pressures farmers are facing.
Affordable housing is difficult to come by in many parts of the state. There was a 4.5% increase in the state’s homeless population according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
What is expected to happen this session?
Legislators will look for ways to help farmers facing challenging economic conditions. Some of the things that failed to pass as part of the omnibus finance bill will likely be reconsidered. These issues include money for broadband, an extension of AFREC, money for the MN Farm Advocates program, tax credits for farmers related to the buffer laws, and an appropriation for mental health services for farmers and farm related businesses.
There will be a focus on expanding affordable housing in Minnesota. Additionally, bills will likely be introduced to help stabilize housing for Minnesotans.
Housing is paramount to the success of families, development of children, and communities. Professionals from the housing sector came together to form a Task Force on Housing at the request of Governor Dayton to focus on affordable housing. In the report they developed, the task force summarized the importance of housing, “When we have safe, secure places to live, parents earn more, kids learn better, health and well-being improve, communities prosper, and we all thrive.”
Additionally, the report included six goals that Minnesota should focus on to have success in meeting the affordable housing demand. The goals include committing resources to housing, preserving what we have, building the homes that we need, increasing home stability, linking homes and services, and promoting homeownership by removing barriers.
Legislative proposals will likely include recommendations from the report to increase affordable housing access but may also include other ideas to relieve the pressure on affordable housing availability.
See the Taxes section for more information on this topic.
The Trump Administration’s trade war with China has hampered agriculture. China plays a significant role in U.S. agriculture markets as it is the country’s largest market. In 2016, Minnesota exported $7.1 billion in agricultural exports ranking 4th in the United States.
While trade disputes with China are not the only reason farms are struggling, it has raised the stakes for farmers across the Midwest. The Star Tribune reported on the challenges facing farmers. The report stated, “The increase in Chapter 12 filings reflects low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and even beef. The situation for most farmers has worsened since June under retaliatory tariffs that have closed the Chinese market for soybeans and damaged exports of milk and pork.”
Minnesota will look at ways to help farmers and agriculture related businesses as they deal with economic instability. A few ways the Legislature may try to help include:
Agricultural property taxes
Some farm groups have indicated their top priority will be property tax relief for farmers that have removed land from production in order to comply with the state’s buffer law. A $50-per-acre tax credit proposed last year used the Clean Water Fund to finance the new credits. Expect a similar push this year.
Rural Finance Authority (RFA)
The Legislature will likely look to see if the Rural Finance Authority will need additional resources for the upcoming biennium.The RFA provides low-interest loans to farmers to help them finance or refinance their operations.
Mental Health Supports
Additional Investment in mental health access for farmers and agricultural-related businesses is needed. The lone mental health counselor at the Department of Agriculture gets 15 calls on a slow day and as many as 40 calls on a busy day.