ST THOMAS, USVI -- Governor John de Jongh has welcomed a five-year $956 billion farm bill passed by the US Congress and sent to the president on Tuesday, which extends the US Virgin Islands food stamp program and increases the territory’s share of a specialty crops program that benefits local farmers.
Governor John de Jongh
The bill includes a number of hard-fought changes to the nation’s agricultural programs including cuts in subsidies to the nation’s farmers by some $16 billion, but the $750 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as the food stamp program) was extended without major changes, after Congressional negotiators rejected massive cuts that were included in an earlier House-passed bill. The negotiators included one change in the law that 16 states had used to increase food stamps benefits for their residents beyond the amounts they otherwise would have qualified for, but Government House said the change would not affect the US Virgin Islands.
The bill also extends the Specialty Crops Block Grant program and ensures that the Territory will receive a minimum of $1.25 million in funding over the next five years to assist local farmers in the production of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and other horticultural products ─ a 35 percent increase over the current program which expired last year. The de Jongh administration successfully lobbied to have the US Virgin Islands included in the Special Crops Block Grant program in the 2008 Farm Bill.
De Jongh said, “I am pleased that, after more than three years of legislative wrangling, Congress has finally completed work on the new farm bill, which provides significant funding for the Virgin Islands ─ not only for the thousands of Virgin Islanders who rely on the food stamp program to ensure basic health and nutrition for their families, but also for hundreds of our farmers who grow fresh produce for our community.”
“I am especially pleased that Congress agreed to extend and expand the specialty crops program, which enables our farmers to expand the production of fresh fruits and vegetables in the territory and lessen our dependence on high-cost produce from the US mainland and neighboring islands,” he added.