By Kevin Walker
LANSING, Mich. – Michigan legislators are on the cusp of appropriating as much as $1.4 billion in one-time federal surplus stimulus money for various agriculture programs and projects.
That appropriation could take the form of Senate Bill 885, which was referred to the senate committee on appropriations in February. “Our agriculture industry continues to navigate a labor crisis and historic supply chain challenges,” said Chuck Lippstreu, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association. “We are calling on lawmakers to seize this historic opportunity to invest in modern rural infrastructure, get skilled workers back on the job and position our Michigan agriculture industry for success. We simply can’t afford not to act.”
According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, SB 885 would make appropriations of $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2021-2022. The bill reflects several one-time grant initiatives to restore and bolster the state’s agriculture industry as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill’s major grant programs would include $350 million for agriculture infrastructure, $350 million for food distribution and security, $150 million for migrant and seasonal labor housing, $144 million to address the impact of bovine tuberculosis and $100 million for rural broadband completion. Other grant programs would address technical training, farmers markets, local food banks, agriculture innovation, protein processing, sustainability, fairs and funding for Michigan State University agriculture research.
Rebecca Park, legislative counsel for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said it’s unclear as of press time what will happen with SB 885. “I think a lot of it is going to get incorporated into the larger conversation about the budget later in the summer,” she said. “SB 885 might get broken into pieces and put into other legislation. But I am certain that the agricultural part of the discussion will be a big part of the conversation over what to do with the surplus federal stimulus dollars.”
According to a letter recently sent to Michigan legislators from a number of agricultural stakeholders, the MSU Research Greenhouse Complex and Dairy Cattle Teaching & Research Center are both “critical pieces to the agriculture industry and, regardless of the funding mechanism, need to be included” in the budgeting process to ensure Michigan remains on the forefront of research and innovation with modern facilities and equipment. The letter adds that Michigan State’s Research Greenhouse Complex is not included for additional funding in the current version of SB 885.
Greg Bird, executive director of the Michigan Vegetable Council, said that SB 885 is currently in at least its third revision and that legislators are now considering a total of $700 million in special appropriations for the agriculture programs and projects already mentioned. Bird was one of the signers of the letter sent to the legislature. He said that more funding for the greenhouse infrastructure at Michigan State is essential.
“Keeping the main agricultural research university cutting edge is important to Michigan’s vegetable industry,” he stated. “SB 885 also brings infrastructure dollars to help with agricultural labor housing in the state. Helping vegetable growers remain competitive is extremely important so that our unique environment here in Michigan remains a viable place to grow a diverse variety of healthy produce for our state, country and world.”
Park said she thinks it’s likely the original $1.4 billion figure will be “pared back” in future discussions. According to some estimates, Michigan’s budget surplus for the current fiscal year could grow to as much as $10.1 billion and for the next fiscal year to as much as $8.2 billion. Recently, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer floated the idea of returning the budget surplus to taxpayers in the form of a $500 check to “Michigan’s working families.” It wasn’t clear at press time if that proposal would happen.