tv Newsmakers CSPAN November 3, 2013 6:00pm-6:31pm EST
director. this week on "newsmakers," agriculture secretary tom bill site joins us. becky for being here. of cq rolln ferguson >> this week the house senate farm bill to go shooters held their first session. is the white house -- let me what backup a little bit, the treasury secretary said it was important to have a farm bill. is the white house going to intervene on the negotiations, to help settle that issue? the senator has repeatedly said he wants the house to help solve hat issue.
>> is important to not focus on numbers, which in washington dc, we focus on and try to figure out what is the right number, i think that is the wrong question. i think the right question is what is the right policy? the usda will be engaged to the extent that the committees need us to be engaged to try and make sure that the policy is right. there's obviously some concern on the part of some about the work requirements in snap and whether they need to be more stringent or more strict. i think it is important for folks to recognize we have work requirements in the snap program, and those really only apply to a bout eight percent of the participants in the program. the reason they have not been utilized recently is because governors and state legislators around the country have chosen to weight those -- waive those requirements during a tough economy.
if they need our assistance, we are ready and willing, and ble. >> doesn't the white house inc. needs help -- think it needs help? >> i think the ranking members obviously understand would have just explained. i think there are nist customs and negotiations -- discussions and negotiations that will be dealt with after the other ersions have been worked out. it is a tough issue and a big issue, and an important issues, but there are other important issues that need to be resolved. most of the focus today, and most of the focused this week, most of the focus next week will probably be on some of those other key issues that need to be orked out.
the dairy portion for example. >> speaking more broadly on the snap program, a major milestone, expiration of a major boost in the stimulus program. in february of 2009, the nemployment rate was rising, and the people using snap was 33 million. ow ecb unemployment rate alling, and yet we have 47 million people using the snap program. what does that say about our economy? >> i think the first part of our -- your question, you answered, the fact that we have unemployment lower, we have seen the creation of jobs, that is an
economy that is improving. that is why it is important to get this farm bill done because in rural america we have not seen much increase in employment. o your question as to why more people are on snap, i think it is important to recognize that we have done, we have an mportant responsibility at the usda. we came into office, there were a number of states where less than 50% of the people were eligible -- who were eligible for snap were not participating n the program. i think we now have a historic high in the terms of the number f people are disbanding. the numbers are not a reflection of the current economic status, they are where air flexion of something that is more systemic in the economy over the last
several decades. the president has talked about the need to rebuild the middle class, and the gap that continues to grow between the ich and the poor in this country. it is important to get our deficit under control, but also to invest in significant job creation opportunities. i think that is the reason you see more people on snap. >> a lot of the discussions in the house of representatives on the farm bill have centered on the ministration of the program, taught -- tightening up the loopholes for abuse. a lot of the frustration with the ministration of the program, especially healthcare.gov, when you see such public frustration and skepticism about a government run program, do you think that makes it harder for people to trust the ministration of other government run programs? >> it is frustrating because a
number of government programs are operating quite well. i'm proud to say that in this administration we have reached lows in error rates in those programs. it is something we will continue focus on. people will not realize that last year we carried out investigations of individuals in the snap program to make sure they were getting the benefits that they were deserving. we are focusing on the businesses that are part of spending and benefiting from this program, and making sure that it was appropriate. we saw 1400 businesses last year that were disqualified from participation. we are really making sure this available is available to the -- making sure that this program is available to the people that need it. it is a program that i think consistently has been looking at reductions in error rates and fraud rates, and we will
continue to focus on that. i think it is important for eople to know who the snap beneficiaries are. what gets lost in the debate, when you talk about numbers, as who are these folk's? the folks who are on snap in this area, can they work, should they work? 90% cannot, because they are seniors with disabilities, or they are children. they are also actually in the workforce, but they are working up our job, or they are working a full-time job that does not pay very much. what we begin to understand in the snap program, the low error rate, the low fraud rate, we get a better feel for this program. we need to be focused on better policy, not numbers.
>> these are very important numbers in terms of the number of ethnic -- investigations you are doing them a who the demographics are, etc. if you're a person who does not qualify for the snap program, but you are struggling to pay your bills, but you are behind someone at the store who is a cart full of five hour energy drinks, and they pay within ebt card, you will have frustration. how do you address the frustration that people associate with this program? >> you mentioned the ebt card, and the region with -- the reason we use that and not the old good sense, is to -- the food stamps, is to make sure hat those frauds are taken away. you may not understand that the person by the -- buying those energy drinks needs them to stay
awake for their third job. people do not understand that. they can go to our website to et recipes that have recipes and guides for health role foods and helpful resources. e look at trying to and sent right we have are, good behavior, healthy behavior by trying to give incentives, providing a little bit extra ash if you provide -- by
certain fruits and but tables -- nd vegetables. we are cognizant of this, but here are serious technical issues in this. every year 12,000 to 14,000 new products are introduced in grocery stores. it is not as simple as it might seem. i will give you a quick example. f you were to ask the question which is healthier, sugared shredded wheat, or low sugar shredded wheat, and you wanted to do for each -- wanted to differentiate on the snap card for those two products, you would probably say the low sugar. but they have actually increased the sodium in the low sugar one.
i think the key here is not to penalize or stigmatized, the key is to incense. to give the information, and make sure that they will make the right decision. >> are there any proposed changes in the house farm bill that the administration would find acceptable, or would be willing to compromise on? >> with respect to the work that the house is done, when the bill was talking about eligibility, it is something that fails to realize how much money you will save. categorical gold -- eligibility means that they will automatically qualify for nap. they do not have to go through
other agencies, or fill out other applications. this is an efficient see that states are utilizing to ensure that they do not have more workers than they actually need to get the work done. when you basically say this type of eligibility is going to disqualify millions of workers. it fails to recognize that we lready have a provision in the law that requires full to work or go to school if they are eceiving snap. if they fail to that -- fail to do that, and they have able bodied dependence, they will be suspended. you cannot say is to someone find a job when unemployment
rates are high. or if they are in a county that just announced a thousand layoffs. both the senate and the house have looked at the assistance program, and there may be ways of looking that -- making sure that that program is run efficiently. that policy is really not about the numbers. one policy that has not been discussed, but needs to be discussed in this context is that we provide you between -- somewhere around $400 million per year. we need to establish a process where your state knows where the jobs are, and better communicate with your human services department that knows who the snap and fisheries are that are capable of working.
we are making -- giving you millions of dollars to make sure that it is easier to find the job to reduce the need for snap work or perhaps a limited. -- eliminate it. there is no accountability for and that is one place if where you get the policy right, you use the resources more effectively, and you would educe the cost of a program -- the program the right way. they're going to take somewhere etween three million and 4 million people who otherwise qualify for this row gram, and disqualify them or make it much harder for them to access this program. it will not be beneficial to the communities, and the grocery force -- stores that are dependent on those who come in and buy enough food to take care of their families.
when you look at the pokes in rural america -- folks in rural america, 30 six percent -- 36% of the family budget is spent on ood. when the stimulus increase was reduced, $36 a month means a lot to those families. it means a great deal to the grocery stores in the small communities that are struggling to survive who need those additional opportunities for the customer to come in and take care of their families. you have to look at the people and the challenges behind this program to really understand that you have to get the policy right. >> do you have some numbers for the american public to better understand the impacts that the stimulus money for food stamps has had since 2009? > i will say this, if you look at poverty reduction, what you are going to find is that the snap row gram reduces the
incidence of poverty and the effects of severe property. it is one of the most effective poverty reduction programs we have. every dollar we have spent in snap, to benefit a struggling family, also benefits the economy because it generates a dollar $.85 -- $1.85 in revenue. if you buy more, the grocer has to stock more, which means that it has to are just more -- purchase more, which means it has to be packaged and processed, it creates a great chain of jobs. what we are able to do with this additional support was to give whole a little extra help during this tough time. he cut that has now occurred
takes somewhere around $11 billion out of that system. as we start talking about savings and about the farm bill and costs and pleasant -- budget reduction, that is one of the things we did in our duties. ur operating budget is over $1 billion less than when i came into office. the agricultural department, there were rural parts of this country that are very serious about deficit reduction, and they are eating a little help -- needing a little help. >> the farm bill is something that touches every american,
especially in their food udget. it is always something that orries the public, the potential for increased annual prices as farm programs revert. as you hear discussions about the milk clefts being approached -- cliff being approached, there have been talks about a new policy being needed from the usda. would you be willing to do hat? >> reality is we have to figure out ways in which we bolster the market to the point where it would nearly double the cost. we would be out in the marketplace are just think --
purchasing products at a significant increase. the government would end up purchasing a substantial amount of butter, milk, and cheese. it might benefit school lunch programs, but it would disadvantage grocery stores and consumers because it would create a shortage. it would also create chaos in economy because if you're dairy producer, are you sure this is going to last for an extended. of time -- extended period of time, or is this something that s only going to last for a few weeks? the best and most effective way would be for congress to pass the farm bill before the end of he year. >> you have high production and sugar this year, low prices,
they often go hand-in-hand in auger culture -- in agriculture. what are you going to do with all this sugar that you have? >> we are trying to figure that out now. we're trying to use it to produce renewable fuel, and that will continue. we developed a creative way of substituting the current sugar imports and we are working with folks that are involved in that. we are slowly, but surely, beginning to reduce that surplus, and it looks like next year's crop is not going to be light -- quite as light -- large. we have not talked about the enormous potential for this bill to impact the economy. we will be investing the lanes of dollars in business development and rural communities. it contains the economy and rural america and all of
america. it is a research bill, because this bill will divide resources to universities to come up with new innovations. in the last couple of years, because of our research initiatives, 360 four patent applications have occurred just from usda sponsored grants. it is a conservation bill in the ability to protect our soil and water, and to create new ecosystem market opportunities in conservation. it is a trade bill because this creates resources by which we can promote agriculture trade. part of what gets lost in the escutcheon is the scope of this will -- in the discussion is the scope of this bill. we fail to recognize everything that is in between. that is why we urge congress to get this done because there is so much benefit. there are congress -- there are consequences if this does not get passed in time, but if we want to talk about
infrastructure, if we want to talk about jobs, and we want to talk about renewal energy, if we want to talk about trade, it is in this bill did it people would recognize that, it would encourage the members of congress to get this done and one quickly. >> this is so far and has such a wide -- so important, and has such a wide impact, why is the white house still standing on the sidelines? >> we are working every single day, i am meeting with and talking to chairman lewis, ranking members of the conference committee. progress is ongoing, and i'm not sure what full expect us to do beyond that -- folks expect us to do beyond that. the data that will allow these conference members to get to the right policy at the end of the day, this is not about headlines, this is not about trying to satisfy the chattering
lasses, it is about creating a good solid bill. that is the work we have been doing, and encouraging numbers to get it done. >> can you get the white house on the phone? >> i cannot speak for their schedule. i know we are engaged in meetings, and i know that they are but -- conversing with businesses and ranking individuals on a regular basis paid >> have you had a meeting with the president about this legislation recently? >> i talked with the president, and his staff about this. and i talk every day with someone connected to the white house on this. this is an important bill because it is a reform bill. we are going to reduce spending in this bill by a significant amount, and we will be eliminating dreck, which is a
significant reform. -- direct payments, which is a ignificant reform. >> let me give you the last uestion. >> about the agricultural economy, when you're looking at the production trends in the next two years, we have had very high economist rices -- prices, record exports, we are staying at -- are seeing a situation now where the prices are starting to plateau bid they're getting more competitive, but the crops are etting larger. could we be on the verge of a ust? >> i do not think so. we are still having a robust x board year -- export year. that will continue.
e are continuing to look for new and creative ways to look for ways to use the agricultural technology in the economy. our flute -- food inflation rate has been just historically low. congress gives very little of that food dollar, which surprises people. congress gets about $.15 of every food dollar spent. there's a lot of money that goes into the packaging, working, and add -- marketing and ads. there is going to be an expanding need for food production locally. we are seeing a worldwide population increase. the middle class seems to be expanding, and the protein and nutrition will be needed. i am confident and convinced that the market will continue to
be strong. i'm also confident that farmers and producers in this country pay attention to markets, and they recognize that when prices are going down that they need to moderate or adjust their planning. we are going to have a bumper crop in corn this year, but that is going to allow us to replenish what has been a significantly low supply of corn in the last years because of drought, floods, and storms. it may potentially pick up, and make it a little bit easier to get profits. it is a delicate balance, but i am confident we will see progress in agriculture.
> thank you so much. we are back with our reporters. hearing from the secretary, and the house and senate conferees over this five-year farm bill, they just sat down for the first time this past year. what did you hear? >> i think they're really telling wilma was when the secretary start of stopped and said you have been talking about this, but let me tell you about jobs, energy, research, and trends. the farm bill is a massive piece of legislation, and the white house is trying to sell this on the people who are worried about frustrations about getting caught in commodity regulations. the cuts that are going forward, there's going to be a lot of
focus on that, because that creates controversy. if you're the ministration, you really aren't trying to shift the focus of the conversation because that is what is trying to help you get your bill through. >> you ask the several -- the secretary several times about negotiations, even reverence think the ire culture secretary -- even referencing the agricultural secretary, saying why do they need help? >> this is a very sensitive issue, and the house and the senate are so far part in the policy decisions they have taken right now. i think chairman -- the chairman and the chairwoman are looking for congressional leaders in the white house to set up a topline to an agreement. i also believe they are little
concerned about the final product they produce making it through the house. the things that we saw happen over the summer in terms of getting a bill through underscored the question about the volatility of the house and what would happen. he left it sort of unclear as to exactly how much the white house will step in, but on the other hand hollered peterson -- collin peterson says if the white house gets too deeply involved, whatever help -- they were for, the house would be against. >> he is working behind the scenes, and helping them out olicy wise -- policy-wise. what does the house want to do ultimately, because they separated the farm bill from the
food stamp bill, and tackle them separately. >> we do not know what the house is going to do, because we have a very factionalized house of representatives. they say keep the food stamps and the farm bill separate raid -- separate. a lot of the institutions on capitol hill see themselves as them again the world. --against the world. the congresswoman is trying to be a good soldier, and the democrats are trying to get a bill through, but they know that the snap program is very important. if they had for different -- figured out how to bridge these gaps, we would have rogress. >> the house and senate conferees are trying to negotiate some sort of deal on