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Ag Commissioner Helmick happy to see farm bill pass US Senate

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The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that could help West Virginia's rural farmers, which pleases Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick.

The bill passed June 10 and includes provisions that will expand broadband services to rural communities by giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture the ability to provide more grants and loans.

"This is an important piece of legislation for our country and our state," Helmick said. "Provisions to support broadband technology, water services and agribusiness development are important to the future of our small, rural communities.

"Modern infrastructure must be present in our farm communities if we want to attract the next generation to agriculture as a profession."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted in support of the bill, which passed 66-27, with seven senators not voting, including Sen. Joe Manchin, also D-W.Va.

After passage, Rockefeller said the continued support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and increased assistance through The Emergency Food Assistance Program help protect West Virginia children and families.

"The farm bill includes important safety net programs so those most in need don't go hungry," he said. "And it goes a long way toward helping to alleviate stressful situations many families face when it comes to finding their next meal.

"This is the least we can do to help the most vulnerable. It's time to get this legislation signed into law."

The bill also works to improve programs that support fresh and local food sources. It reauthorizes the Fresh Program, which distributes fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions; the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which gives low-income seniors across the country coupons in exchange for fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets; and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, which encourages direct producer-to-consumer sales.

The bill also maintains the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program that gives school districts with a high number of low-income students free fruits and vegetables for elementary school students.

Helmick said he is also glad to see those programs continue.

"I also support the reauthorization of programs that are putting fresh, healthy produce in the hands of our schoolchildren and senior citizens," Helmick said. "These programs have been very beneficial to the Mountain State over the years. They encourage healthy eating habits and support farmers throughout West Virginia."

The bill now must pass the House of Representatives before it can be signed into law.