Omnibus Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Bill
The University of Minnesota Extension Office reported that, “After adjusting for inflation, Minnesota farms earned lowest median income in the past 23 years.” The market has deteriorated over several years, but low prices and trade issues have compounded in already difficult markets across agricultural sectors. Additionally, where there is growth in rural areas, housing has become unaffordable and creating housing developments is cost prohibitive. In response, Governor Walz has invested considerable resources in his budget to address the unique challenges facing rural Minnesota communities.
Governor Walz appropriated over $100 million in new money for the areas of agriculture and housing. Much of the investment ($70 million) can be attributed to the border-to-border broadband grant program. The balance is dedicated to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency ($26 million) and agriculture ($7.5 million).
In comparison, the proposal offered by Senate Republicans proposed $30 million in new spending for this budget area over the biennium. The entire $30 million is dedicated to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Additionally, to fund their new priorities, Republicans cut existing proven housing programs. (SF 2226)
Mental health support for farmers and their families
Low commodity prices and mounting debt have taken a toll on farmers and their families across Minnesota and the nation. In recognition of troubling trends regarding farmers’ mental health, Governor Walz appropriated $450,000 to allow for a second mental health professional to provide one-on-one counseling. The amount of new funding being carried for this program in FY 2020 has not yet been decided by Senate Republicans. (SF 1)
Agriculture disaster recovery changes
Heavy snow has resulted in the collapse of private farm structures across the state. This problem was particularly troubling for dairy farms given the market conditions in this sector. In a several cases, dairy farmers who experienced a collapsed barn also lost livestock or were forced to sell them to nearby farmers.
The governor signed legislation that would authorize the Rural Finance Authority to use resources to help farmers recover from barn collapses. The program provides funding for the restoration of damaged agricultural buildings to pre-disaster conditions. (SF 2225)
Dairy farm relief
In addition to the expansion of uses for Agriculture Disaster Recovery, several other proposals were heard to help dairy farmers. With declining milk prices, a harsh winter, and trade issues many dairy farmers are selling their herds. Bills to combat this issue include provisions for a conservation assistance program (SF 1699), a margin coverage assistance program (SF 1698, SF 2226), and a dairy modernization program. (SF 2226)
Affordable housing shortage
A report published by the Minnesota Housing Partnership found that more than 25% of families pay more than they can afford (at least 30% of their income) on housing. To meet demand and stabilize prices The Governor’s Task Force on Housing reported that 300,000 new homes will need to be built in Minnesota by 2030.
Governor Walz invested $26 million for housing in his proposal and another $150 million in the bonding bill. Senate Republicans do not provide any additional resources for the state’s housing needs. Instead their budget spreads base funding to cover more priorities. They do this by cutting several important programs including the Challenge Program, housing rehabilitation loan program, affordable rental investment fund, and home ownership education counseling. (SF 2226)
For additional information on Housing, please see the tax section.