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Hirono Secures Several Key Priorities for Hawaii in Senate Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill

~ Bill includes Hirono provisions focused on nutrition, research, forestry, and climate change ~

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) secured several key priorities for Hawaii in the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act of 2024, a multi-year Farm Bill proposal recently released by Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

“The Farm Bill has a tremendous impact on our country’s food and crops that are grown and consumed every day,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation is passed only once every five years and I’m proud to have secured provisions to strengthen support for local producers, expand access to fresh, healthy Hawaii-grown produce for our families, and much more. As we continue to negotiate this year’s Farm Bill, I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass legislation that supports producers, families, and communities in Hawaii and across the country.”

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act includes several provisions introduced by Senator Hirono focused on nutrition; research; forestry; and climate change. One of the major provisions Hirono secured was an increase in the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), the primary funding source for Hawaii’s “DA BUX” program, which enables Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cardholders to receive a 50 percent discount on Hawaii-grown produce at participating grocery stores and food hubs. In March 2022, there were over 173,000 people receiving SNAP benefits in Hawaii. Senator Hirono’s provision would increase the federal match rate and mandatory funding for GusNIP projects, as well as allow for the expansion and improvement of existing projects, among other things.

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act includes the following Hirono-driven priorities:

  • Nutrition
    • Includes language requiring the Secretary of Agriculture to promulgate an interim final rule regarding the calculation of the Hawaii Thrifty Food Plan, which would include food prices from neighbor islands.
    • Includes language excluding the value of the military basic allowance for housing from SNAP income.
    • Creates a competitive grant program for State agencies or private nonprofit entities to purchase for distribution through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) kosher, halal, or culturally relevant foods that meet the demonstrated needs of the area served by the State or private nonprofit entity.
    • Allows Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, and Virgin Islands to request alternative delivery options for TEFAP commodities. Also allows these states and territories to request the Secretary to transfer the cash value of the TEFAP commodities to instead procure their own food.
    • GusNIP (DA BUX)
      • Increases the federal match for GusNIP projects from 50% to 80%.
      • Allows retailer associate wages to count towards the match.
      • Authorizes the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with State agencies or nonprofit entities to expand existing large-scale GusNIP projects.
      • Makes program improvements to produce prescription projects, including allowing for all forms of fruits and vegetables, establishing standards for review panels, and establishing two categories of grant awards.
      • Requires that the training, technical assistance, evaluation, and information centers develop training and guidance with FNS on providing and promoting the provision of direct incentives to participants electronically through state EBT systems.
      • Requires increased coordination between the partner agencies within USDA in the application review process for GusNIP grants and cooperative agreements.
      • Increases mandatory funding to carry out this section by $750 million over 10 years.
    • Requires GAO to conduct a study assessing the adequacy and availability of nutrition programs in geographically isolated states and territories, compared to the continental United States, including the availability of food price data for geographically isolated States and whether the food price data used by USDA accurately reflects food costs in each geographically isolated State.
  • Research
    • Native Hawaiian Education Grants: Increases authorization of appropriations for education grants to Native Hawaiian serving institutions to $15 million for each of fiscal years 2025 through 2029.
    • Aquaculture: Increases the authorization of appropriations to $15 million for each of fiscal years 2025 through 2029 and allows for a 30% indirect cost cap for the aquaculture assistance program.
    • Ag Deferred Maintenance: Provides $100 million in mandatory funding for fiscal year 2025 for agricultural research facilities.
  • Forestry
    • Rapid Ohia Death: Requires the Secretary to continue to partner with the Secretary of the Interior and governors of affected States and Territories to address Rapid Ohia Death. Authorizes $5 million in appropriations for each of fiscal years 2025 through 2029 to carry out this section.
  • Climate Change
    • Climate Change Hubs: Authorizes climate hubs in statute and adds one in the state of Hawaii (Hawaii currently belongs to the Southwest Hub in New Mexico).

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act of 2024, contains more than 100 pieces of legislation that aim to support U.S. farms, create jobs, improve rural infrastructure, expand access to childcare and health care, support rural education and skills training, build out high-speed rural broadband, help rural homes and build more housing in rural America, assist homeowners and farms transition to greener energy and lower their utility bills, clean up our drinking water, conserve our land, and more. 

A full bill summary is available here. A section-by-section is available here.

Senator Hirono has championed legislation to support local farmers and secure stronger investment in the agriculture industry, while also working to ensure that communities across the country have access to healthy and fresh meals and produce. In October, she introduced a bill to strengthen a program connecting participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with fresh produce. In September, Senator Hirono introduced the AuGmenting Research and Educational Sites to Ensure Agriculture Remains Cutting-edge and Helpful (AG RESEARCH) Act, legislation to provide billions in funding to address deferred maintenance at U.S. schools of agriculture, including the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (UH CTAHR), and USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facilities. In May, Senator Hirono sent a letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing her strong support for the agency’s proposed rule that would expand access to healthy, free school meals for students across the country. She also introduced the RTCP Revitalization Act, legislation to secure additional funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment (RTCP) Program. A program that enables geographically disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in Hawaii, Alaska, and other insular areas to receive reimbursements for costs incurred when transporting supplies such as feed, fertilizer, and equipment parts.