The National Grange
Blueprint for Rural America 2012
Priority Issues of Concern to Rural Americans and our Nation’s
Family Farmers, Ranchers and Foresters in the Year 2012
The National Grange, the nation’s oldest general farm and rural public interest organization, develops a ten-point public policy program that is designed to revitalize rural America and assure prosperity for U.S. family farmers, ranchers and foresters each year. This year’s program, our Blueprint for Rural America, outlines our priority issues and serves as the backbone of the National Grange Policy for 2012.
For 145 years, the National Grange has offered its members one of the most successful, effective, and action-oriented grassroots political advocacy programs in the nation through its local, grassroots, and resolution-based policy development process. Today, Grange members, affiliated with more than 2,100 local, county, and state Grange chapters across the nation, are leaders in developing and advocating policies that benefit their communities, states and nation.
1. Build and Protect a Solid Foundation of Prosperity for America’s Family Farmers, Ranchers, and Foresters
America’s family farmers, ranchers, and foresters are a diverse, constantly evolving group of more than 2.2 million entrepreneurs. They greatly differ in the size of their operations, the products they produce, their enterprise structure, needs for capital, use of farm labor, environmental challenges, geographic locations, marketing decisions, and the revenues derived from these agricultural operations. Roughly 125,000 U.S. farms are commercial operations and account for 75 percent of all domestic agricultural production. The remaining 94 percent of U.S. farms incorporate non-farm income in their business plan.
Federal farm programs should foster increased participation in the agricultural sector and promote the broadest practical distribution of agricultural production in our society by encouraging more Americans to include farming, ranching or forestry as part of their entrepreneurial goals. According to the Census of Agriculture, a majority of our nation’s farmers are over 57 years old and 30 percent of our farmers are over the age of 65. We must assure that today’s family farmers can retire with dignity and that their productive resources will be transferred to a new generation of ag-entrepreneurs. Farm programs should reward innovative and sustainable practices, encourage sound conservation techniques, preserve prime farmland, comply with trade agreements, respond quickly to natural disasters, drive scientific animal husbandry and veterinary practices, and promote cost-saving and environmentallybeneficial
new technologies for the entire agriculture sector.
Farm policy must also protect farmers from risks that are beyond their control. These unsolicited hazards may come from natural disaster, as well as from undue concentration of market power that restricts competition or entry into the agriculture sector. Unwarranted bureaucratic intrusion into the business of producing food to meet local demand without any demonstration of commensurate food safety benefits to consumers is a growing problem which adds greatly to compliance costs.
• Support innovative farm programs that make available credit, risk management, income support, and environmental stewardship resources for family farmers, ranchers and foresters, regardless of the crop or livestock they produce. Support sustainable practices like part-time, new uses, low investment/expense, aquaculture, agritourism, direct-to-consumer, and organic farming.
• Protect farmers who rely on commodity markets or contract production from monopoly and market manipulation. Assure that farmers have reliable information and technical assistance in order to make the best decisions about preserving prime agricultural land, assuring compliance with existing international trade agreements, responding quickly to natural disasters, using scientifically driven animal husbandry practices, and facilitating the utilization of cost-saving and environmentally-beneficial new technologies. Restrict unwarranted bureaucratic intrusion into the business of producing food to meet local demand without any demonstration of commensurate food safety benefits to consumers.
• Continue and expand direct federal government purchases of dairy products to support prices received by dairy farmers. Support direct financial assistance, such as the MILC program, for moderate-sized dairy farms as well as a farmer financed supply management/herd reduction programs.
• Combat trade distorting practices instituted by foreign governments, such as currency manipulation and unilateral repudiation of sovereign debt, that make it more difficult for U.S. farmers to export their products. Continue cost-effective export promotion programs, such as the Market Access Program, at current levels.
• Facilitate the generational transfer of assets to a new generation of family farmers, ranchers, and foresters by: extending the existing $500,000 per couple federal capital gains tax exclusion for private residences to agricultural land and/or to the sale of development or water rights on agricultural land; supporting federal programs for agricultural land use preservation and conservation practices on private land; supporting tax simplification for family farmers; supporting reform and eventual elimination of the estate tax and supporting accelerated depreciation of capital assets for farms and rural businesses.
2. Respond to the National Financial Crisis’ Impact on Rural America
Today our nation faces the worst financial crisis in generations. The farmers and entrepreneurs of rural America did not create this crisis but its impact is felt disproportionately in farming and rural communities. Today, rural counties have lost jobs at a faster rate than urban or suburban counties. Rural counties dependent on manufacturing and low wage services, like call centers, are especially hard hit. Even many farming dependant counties are experiencing a sharp economic downturn.
Yet, rural America’s farmers and entrepreneurs remain its primary engine of prosperity. A larger portion of the workforce in rural areas are self-employed, or work for someone who is self employed, than in urban or suburban communities. Immediate action to revive the national economy by cushioning the impacts of widespread unemployment, creating new jobs through extensive investments in rural public works infrastructure programs, restoring confidence in the financial system, and protecting American taxpayers should be the first priority of the President and Congress.
Further investigation and possible prosecution or civil action against individuals involved in the collapse of the financial industry should be vigorously pursued. Companies that engaged in corrupt, incompetent, or fraudulent business practices should not receive taxpayer bailouts. Strict limits must be placed on the compensation for executives of companies that receive bailouts. Indefinite government ownership or control of private business must be avoided.
As the financial crisis has expanded to the personal credit, small business, home mortgage and farming sectors, rural entrepreneurs are forced to close businesses and sell assets. Personal and small business bankruptcies and foreclosures have risen dramatically. Small business lines of credit, home mortgages/equity loans, and personal credit card debts should be immediately restructured so that interest rates are no more than five percent above the prime-lending rate.
Systematic reforms of the Federal government’s fiscal policy are also needed to ensure a return to general prosperity, price stability, and an equitable distribution of our nation’s productive resources among all members of society. We cannot shift the unsustainable excess of borrowing, speculation, and financial leverage that occurred in the private sector onto the public debt (and thereby onto future generations) in order to artificially stimulate our economy. Before the Federal government can credibly provide meaningful oversight over the business practices of private financial institutions and other corporations to prevent a similar crisis in the future, our national political leaders must adopt concrete commitments to balance the federal budget within five years, further reduce the outstanding federal deficit, and address the burgeoning unfunded liabilities in our national social insurance safety net.
• Support action by the federal government to revive the national economy by cushioning the impacts of widespread unemployment, creating new jobs through extensive investments in rural public works infrastructure programs, restoring confidence in the financial system, and protecting the American taxpayer.
• Investigate individuals involved in the collapse of the banking and financial industry for possible prosecution and/or personal civil action. Preclude companies that engaged in corruption, incompetence, or fraudulent business practices from receiving taxpayer bailouts. Strictly limit the amounts of compensation to executives of companies that receive taxpayer-funded bailouts.
• Avoid indefinite, direct government ownership or control of private business at all costs. Quickly restructure, break into smaller, competitive businesses, or process through bankruptcy all major corporations, especially banks and financial institutions, that are deemed “too big to fail” and that have fallen into receivership or de facto government ownership.
• Restructure consumer, farm, and small business lines of credit, home mortgages, home equity loans, and credit cards. Restrict all variable interest rates on these loans to no more than five percent above the prime-lending rate for the duration of the financial crisis.
• Call on the President and members of Congress to adopt concrete commitments to balance the federal budget within five years, further reduce the outstanding federal deficit, and address the burgeoning unfunded liabilities in our national social insurance safety net. Support a constitutional amendment or other binding measure to require a two-third vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to increase the statutory limit on the public debt.
3. Expand Telecommunications Services in Rural Areas
• Support implementation of the comprehensive National Broadband Plan that makes a strong commitment by the Federal Government to assure universal access to high speed broadband for all Americans, regardless of where they live. Promote greater education for rural consumers on the advantages of broadband connections for their homes, farms and small businesses. Actively engage third party service providers who have an interest in reaching rural citizens, customers, employees and clients in the most cost-effective manner possible as part of the implementation strategies to increase the acceptance of broadband in rural communities.
• Support diversification of the use of Universal Service Fund monies to guarantee that every rural community has access to affordable local telephone, cell phone, and broadband Internet access. Support extending eligibility for providers of “Lifeline” service for low-income persons to include cell phone companies.
• Support legislation to assure that every rural community has access to free, over-the-air broadcast radio and television services, as well as competitive video, fiber optic, fixed wireless or satellite services.
• Support the investment of new innovations in telemedicine, telehealth and telebusiness that expand services and level the playing field for rural Americans and small business.
• Protect children from inappropriate materials and or dangerous situations, combat incidents of fraud, reduce spam and increase privacy and personal security for individuals who use the Internet or cell phones. Update “Do-Not-Call” registry programs to include computer dialed and live political telemarketing calls.
• Support a fair and equitable sale or auction mechanism of available wireless spectrum to ensure that rural customers have affordable access to wireless service.
• Monitor and oppose the approval of technologies that interfere and impair GPS appliances, vehicles, boats and farm equipment.
4. Secure Energy Innovation, Affordability and Sustainability for Rural America
Dependence on imported energy and high energy prices threaten our national security. High energy costs force farmers to abandon crops in their fields or sell livestock at a loss. Renewable energy from our nation’s farms, better utilization of traditional domestic energy sources, and enhanced energy conservation are the keys to reducing our dependence on imported energy and combating climate change.
However, existing energy policies often contradict this effective three-pronged strategy. Renewable energy from our nation’s farms and rural communities is grossly underutilized and faces government regulatory hurdles to further utilization that are not based on sound science or practical observation. Volatile energy prices, driven in part by Wall Street speculators, have crippled our nation’s fertilizer and agricultural chemical production capacity. Domestic energy reserves cannot be developed because of unscientific, ecological prejudices. Environmentally marginal policies, such as arbitrary “Cap and Trade” carbon taxes (which will be imposed on our economy by using the same Wall Street speculators who caused our economy to collapse), will increase energy costs without any increase in the number of new clean energy jobs, or increase in domestic energy production. Specific efforts to promote infrastructure
improvements that increase efficiency and reduce energy costs in rural areas, such as: streamlined approval for road, rail, and water transportation improvements; opening the Yucca Mountain site for storage of nuclear waste; hydroelectric, bio-methane, wind and solar energy projects; and electricity transmission line upgrades, all need immediate federal action. Voluntary and cost-effective rural energy conservation programs, such as passenger rail service, regional air transportation service, telecommuting, telemedicine, telebusiness, home and farm weatherization, car/van pooling, and affordable inter-community bus service, are underutilized and lack financial support.
• Promote the goal of generating at least 25 percent of domestic energy needs from renewable resources derived from America’s family farms, such as biodiesel, ethanol, biomass, solar, and wind energies by January 1, 2025.
• Streamline government approval for the development of traditional and renewable sources of energy from public and private lands as well as offshore, in an environmentally sound manner.
• Oppose unproven, arbitrary, costly and economically inefficient “Cap and Trade” carbon taxes, which would be imposed on our economy via the same speculators who caused our financial collapse, as a means of meeting our nation’s environmental and/or energy security goals.
• Support legislation to make energy saving infrastructure improvements in rural areas, such as streamlined approval processes and authorization for improved road, rail and water transportation as well as additional electricity transmission capacity.
• Support efforts to reinstate and fully fund the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s market oversight authority over energy markets.
• Support effective energy conservation programs in rural areas such as passenger rail service, regional air transportation service, telecommuting, home and farm weatherization, public transportation, and car/van pools.
5. Improve Access to and Quality of Rural Health Care
Rural Americans face daunting challenges to acquire adequate health care. Today, family farmers, ranchers and rural residents need access to affordable, portable health care, health insurance and prescription drug coverage regardless of their age, race, income, health condition or location with freedom of choice of medical provider and facility. Efforts to reform our national health care system must assure that programs to reduce overall health care costs or expand coverage must guarantee access to the right care by the right provider at the right time in the right place and for the right cost for all. Medical decisions about individual courses of treatment must be made only by patients and their licensed medical professionals and never by insurance companies or government bureaucrats.
Yet, health care reform will have no value if there are no healthcare resources in rural communities. Healthcare reform must ensure that there are adequate medical facilities and an ample healthcare workforce that is qualified to deliver all levels of care in every rural community. Existing Medicaid, S-Chip, Medicare, Medicare Part D drug benefits, and Medicare Advantage options must be preserved for rural seniors and low-income families. Should these programs have their funding reduced or restructured, it should be done by the elected representatives of Congress, not unchecked boards or commissions.
Rampant fraud within the Medicare system must be investigated and perpetrators punished before cuts are made to Medicare programs. Addressing the source of waste in these programs rather than punishing the patients will benefit both recipients of Medicare and Medicaid assistance as well as the taxpayer.
The full range of current private health insurance coverage, including medical savings accounts, medical flexible spending accounts and long term care coverage, must be available to rural Americans, with 100 percent income tax deductibility, at prices they can afford, regardless of prior medical conditions, with no restrictions in coverage. Any proposals to reduce reimbursements to rural health care providers must be opposed and additional compensation to rural primary care physicians from public and private health care plans for non-procedural services, such as patient consultations, must be supported. Rural health care providers also face financial burdens from rampant medical malpractice litigation. Rural health care providers and patients need aggressive deployment of advanced pharmaceutical treatments, telemedicine technologies and digital record keeping in order to control costs and to provide
accurate acute care to their communities.
• Provide rural residents with access to affordable, portable health care, health insurance and prescription drug coverage regardless of their age, race, income, health condition or location with unrestricted freedom of choice of medical provider and facility.
• Assure that all rural Americans have the means to address their medical financial responsibilities through 100 percent income tax deductions for health and long-term care insurance, medical savings accounts, medical flexible spending accounts, nationwide privately managed association health plans, as well as expanded access to competitive Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits and Medicare Advantage plans for rural seniors.
• Repeal regulatory barriers that rural health care providers face regarding reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid. Oppose any proposals to reduce reimbursements to rural health care providers. Support additional compensation to rural primary care physicians from all public and private health care plans for non-procedural services, such as patient consultations.
• Just as medical decisions should be made by patients and their physicians, cuts to the funding of our nation’s healthcare reimbursement system, Medicare, should be made by our legislative representatives in Congress. Boards and commissions such as IPAB, created with powers outside the American system of checks and balances, put our rural healthcare needs behind cost-cutting and stand in direct conflict with the democratic rule of law and a three-branch system.
• Support comprehensive, national medical malpractice tort reform to reign in frivolous lawsuits that put rural health professionals at risk.
• Address fraud within the Medicare and Medicaid programs by supporting legislation that calls for heightened investigations of repeat offenders.
• Aggressively deploy modern pharmaceutical treatments, advanced telemedicine technologies and digital record keeping in rural communities to control costs and to serve the needs of rural patients and rural health care providers.
6. Promote Practical and Effective Immigration Reform
The flood of undocumented immigration creates a nationwide financial and social burden to provide these individuals with basic public and governmental services. Undocumented immigration increases the risk of criminal/terrorist activity, presents a danger to public health, promotes the creation of a permanent underclass, and diminishes our national sovereignty. At the same time, the need for legal guest workers to fill labor shortages in agriculture and other parts of our economy is critical. Stop-gap measures such as erecting physical barriers along the borders, shifting the enforcement burden to private employers and ignoring the problem through de facto amnesty that requires taxpayers and consumers to pay for this crisis, have clearly failed and our border states now
suffer from serious acts of violence and drug trafficking activity.
The primary responsibility to secure our borders, protect our sovereignty and assure an orderly supply of guest workers rests with the government at all levels. Increased efforts to secure our borders; increased cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement officials to respond to public safety threats by undocumented aliens; authorization to detain undocumented aliens pending investigation of their status; uniform verification of eligibility for individuals to receive government services; repealing the automatic rights of citizenship to the children of illegal aliens; and reform of outdated guest worker programs are all practical measures that can be implemented immediately.
Requiring private employers to enforce federal immigration law is vigilantism that places at risk the civil rights of both foreign workers and U.S. citizens. Requiring taxpayers to finance government services for undocumented immigrants who flaunt their disregard for our laws is contrary to the principals of democratic accountability and popular sovereignty.
• Support increased U.S. control of our nation’s borders to prevent the entry of illegal and undocumented immigrants.
• Support a prohibition on general amnesty for illegal aliens. Require proof of citizenship and/or legal residence to receive government benefits. Repeal automatic citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants, until their parents become U.S. citizens.
• Allow law enforcement or immigration officials to detain any undocumented aliens, including individuals with expired visas, to facilitate orderly deportation.
• Support enactment of practical and enforceable foreign guest worker programs, including expedited processing of foreign workers in the agricultural sector. Support reform of the H2A program to make it beneficial to farmers. Support the expansion of the H1B and J1 visas for foreign professionals to enter the United States in order to provide services in rural communities, where there is a documented need.
• Support legislation to assure that agricultural employers are not responsible for verifying migrant or seasonal worker documentation at the time of employment. Support legislation to assure that employers who unknowingly hire illegal aliens will not be prosecuted, taxed or fined.
7. Support Rural Transportation Improvements that Protect the Freedom of Mobility
Freedom of mobility is vital to rural life. Transportation is the lifeblood of our nation’s economy. Federal transportation investments promote healthy economic growth. However, our highways, railroads, airports, and waterways are deteriorating from failure to support and maintain transportation infrastructures. Since 1970, Americans have increased the miles they drive by more than 148 percent, while new roads have increased by just 6 percent. Gridlock costs $67.5 billion a year and wastes 3.6 billion hours. Grain literally rots on the ground waiting to be transported. Private owners of short-line railroads have increasingly abandoned corridors that are vital to farmers. Our nation’s commercial waterways (our nation’s most cost, energy and environmentally efficient transportation infrastructure) are threatened by environmental regulations and deterioration. Rural airports host 40 percent of the nation’s general aviation fleet. They are the primary source of passenger air transportation for 19 percent of the U.S. population. They are indispensable for fighting forest fires, emergency medical response, aerial pesticide applications, traffic enforcement, wilderness search and rescue, just-in-time package delivery, and other services critical to maintaining a healthy rural economy.
• Support comprehensive, multi-year, federal surface transportation legislation that would benefit rural America through highway construction, rural highway and bridge maintenance, highway safety, and mass transportation. Support a Highway Trust Fund funded by dedicated motor fuel taxes. Support keeping Interstate Highways toll free.
• Encourage railroads, trucking, and barge shipping companies to provide reliable and competitive bulk commodity transportation. Restrict mergers that further concentrate transportation resources. Support efforts to secure public ownership of vital short-line rail transportation corridors and facilities that benefit rural communities when those lines are proposed for abandonment.
• Support federal expenditures to upgrade and mantain all inland waterways and commercial ports. Resist efforts to shorten transportation seasons on rivers for marginal environmental reasons.
• Support appropriate national aviation fuel user fees paid by all commercial aviation businesses to assure that the Federal Aviation Administration will continue to be able to oversee commercial passenger, freight air, and general aviation services at the 2,574 rural airports in the U.S.
• Support technology to increase civic participation through voter registration, absentee voting, nomination petitions, referendum petitions, jury selection, registering for selective service, starting a small business or other civic responsibilities. Increase penalties for fraud regarding voting or other civic responsibilities.
• Support efforts to make English the official language of the United States. Support programs to assure that everyone living in the United States can learn English.
• Support teaching about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the free enterprise system and basic civic values in all schools.
• Support legislation to allow references to a divine presence at school and public events.
• Engage Grange members at all age levels and in all leadership roles to become active in the governance of their local communities.
9. Enhance Public Safety and Homeland Security in Rural Areas
Grange members cherish living in rural communities free of crime and fear. Bioterrorism threatens the livelihood of family farmers via the domestic transportation or importation of invasive pests and diseases. Consumers are at risk from imported food and other products that fail to meet the same standards as domestically produced products. Family farmers face blatant threats of fear and intimidation from FBI-recognized violent, domestic, terrorist groups, such as the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. Well-funded, ancillary, propaganda networks, masquerading as non-profit advocacy groups, also act as enablers of this violent, extremist agenda by commonly blaming these criminal attacks entirely on the victims through their unsubstantiated, factually distorted, and sensationalist portrayals in the media regarding the use of legal, humane and scientifically validated modern agricultural production practices on family farms and ranches.
Urban gangs as well as various domestic and international drug cartels actively recruit and operate in secluded rural and border areas. Criminals use rural locations to manufacture, process and distribute illegal drugs, such as marijuana and methamphetamine, and then leave private landowners with toxic waste sites. Laws regarding criminal penalties for the use of firearms during the commission of a crime are not adequately enforced. The basic rights of crime victims in rural areas go unprotected. Rural law enforcement agencies are often unprepared to address these challenges because they lack the latest technologies needed to communicate with each other and other first responders.
• Support legislation to combat the manufacture, production and distribution of marijuana, methamphetamine and other illegal drugs in rural areas.
• Combat bioterrorism by preventing the importation or domestic transportation of invasive pests and diseases. Support legislation to require that all imported food and manufactured products must meet the same standards for consumer health and safety as domestic products.
• Support efforts to disrupt domestic terrorist activities by extremist environmental or animal rights organizations and their ancillary propaganda networks.
• Support programs to protect the rights of victims of violent crimes in rural areas.
• Support the strict enforcement of all existing laws pertaining to the use of firearms during the commission of a crime in lieu of additional restrictions on the right to bear firearms.
• Support programs to provide every rural law enforcement agency in the U.S. access to advanced telecommunications technologies that interface with other first responders.
10. Improve the Quality of Rural Education
Public education is important to rural communities because every child deserves a high quality education and the academic success of our children must never depend more on where they live rather than on their individual potential. An Office of Rural Education should be established within the U.S. Department of Education to specifically advocate for the needs of rural school districts.
We must reform federal education statutes in order to return the authority to direct students’ educations to parents, teachers, and local school boards and to assure that all federally mandated education programs, especially programs for special needs students, are fully and appropriately funded. We must reward teachers who successfully instruct their students to master basic skills and knowledge necessary to become productive members of their community. We must empower teachers and school officials to quickly confront and respond to disruptive or violent students, without fear of professional retribution. Rural public schools must combat childhood obesity by offering only healthy foods and snacks to students, and through physical education programs.
Home-schooling should be a viable alternative to traditional education in rural communities, especially where the distance and cost of transporting students to and from school can impede a child’s ability to learn. Non-intrusive regulations and cooperative partnerships with local school districts can assure that rural home-schooled students receive a high quality education.
• Support legislation to create an Office of Rural Education within the U.S. Department of Education.
• Support reforms to the No Child Left Behind Act, the Secure Rural Schools and Communities Self Determination Act, and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act to make them more responsive to rural public schools.
• Reward teachers who successfully instruct their students to master basic skills and knowledge and empower teachers and local school officials to confront, and if necessary, appropriately remove, disruptive and/or violent students from the classroom, without fear of professional retribution.
• Proactively combat childhood obesity in rural public schools by offering only healthy foods and snacks, and by having ongoing physical education programs.
• Support universal adoption of non-intrusive regulations and cooperative partnerships with local school districts to assure that all rural home-schooled students receive a high quality education.