Hartzler outlines plans for new farm bill before Congressional discussion

JEFFERSON CITY – The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture is gearing up for the next federal farm bill, and this time they hope to pass it on time.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, presented updates on the bill at the 2018 Farm Bill Summit at MU Wednesday afternoon before discussion begins in the Capitol. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also provided a video statement.

The farm bill is the foundation of federal agricultural and food policies that is passed every five years by the U.S. Congress. The current bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was passed in February of 2014, two years after the previous 2008 Farm Bill’s expiration in 2012. It is set to expire in 2018.

The 2008 bill was extended for nine months until September 2013. Congress had previously proposed two bills in 2012 and 2013, but both failed to pass the House.

Hartzler, who is a majority member of the House agriculture committee, said she saw some challenges that delayed the signing of the 2014 bill.

“When I was elected in 2010 and got there in 2011, it was just the beginning of the discussions of the farm bill, and I understood how important it was that you have these programs,” Hartzler said. “I quickly learned how many people don’t like the farm bill for various reasons. They made it a complicated process that took years for us to get that done.”

Hartzler said the committee aims to write the new bill up in a timely manner.

“As we go into looking at the farm bill coming up, we’re going to be working very hard to make sure we have one of the best farm bills possible,” Hartzler said. “We are committed to trying to do everything we can. This time we would get it done on time.”

Details of the bill should emerge shortly in Congress. The first draft of the bill is planned to be out in a couple of weeks, and the committee hopes to pass the final one by next year.

“Right now, since the bill is being drafted, is the perfect time for this forum. I’m going to take notes this afternoon,” Hartzler said. “We can take that next week and share that with the House agriculture committee and put together.”

State committee seeks to relieve Missouri student loan debt

JEFFERSON CITY — State legislators are looking to tackle Missouri’s enormous student debt.

According to the Project on Student Debt conducted by the Institute for College Access & Success, 57 percent of Missouri college students graduated with student loans in 2016. The average amount of the debt was $27,532.

Student debt is the second largest form of debt in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Four spokespeople from MU, Webster University, Park University and Central Methodist University testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Student Debt Relief Tuesday afternoon, offering potential remedies to Missouri’s student debt problem.

Erik Bergrud, associate vice president of external relations at Park University, suggested establishing a statewide work-study program that would partially cover debt and provide students relevant work experience throughout their college years.

Bergrud pointed to Park University’s own work-study program, which allows students work for 20 hours a week on campus in exchange for free tuition.

“They get their tuition, room and board on campus, but they have to work and be engaged in community or campus,” Bergurd said.

In the last legislative session, committee member Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, sponsored a House bill that would have started a work-study program, but it never became law.

Keri Gilbert, a financial aid advisor at MU, said a statewide work-study program and an expanded Access Missouri Program, a need-based scholarship, would help the neediest students and further reduce the overall student loan debt.

Committee Chairman Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, said no bill proposal targeting debt is in the works for the next year, when Missouri’s higher education will face the budget cuts signed by Gov. Eric Greitens earlier this year.

“Where I stand, we need to do everything we can uphold our funding to our universities and to higher education,” Rep. Andrews said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in the next budget year.”

In August, Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the state’s college savings plan called MOST 529 — a statewide program that offers federal and state tax benefits including deferred income tax on earnings.

“At a time when student loan debt is skyrocketing, saving for higher education expenses has never been more important,” Schmitt wrote in an email. “The more parents put away now, the less their kids will have to borrow in student loans in the future.”

The committee hopes to hear more from Missouri’s higher education sector through future hearings, with the next hearing scheduled for November.