Sen. Westrom’s agriculture, rural development, and housing budget bill signed into law

Invests $40M in rural broadband expansion, farmer mental health, affordable manufactured workforce housing, and home ownership

ST. PAUL, MN – Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) joined Governor Tim Walz (DFL) as he signed into law, SF 1, the comprehensive agriculture, rural development, and affordable housing budget bill chief-authored by Westrom. The bipartisan budget legislation, a component of the overall state budget agreement, places an emphasis on rural broadband expansion, invests in affordable manufactured housing and home ownership, prioritizes value-added agriculture opportunities that directly impact farmers, and increases resources for farmer mental health services.

“By working together, we were able to craft a bipartisan budget that prioritizes Minnesota farm families and Greater Minnesota Development,” said Westrom, Chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee. “Low commodity prices have severely impacted the agriculture community, especially dairy and soybean farmers. This budget includes investments in programs that aim to expand markets and improve the bottom lines of Minnesota farmers. Further, we recognize struggling to make ends meet puts additional stress on farm families beyond the financial burdens, which is why we fund an expansion of farmer mental health services in our state.”

The budget bill passed the Minnesota Senate unanimously, one of the few budget bills with that distinction.

“The ability to feed, fuel, and clothe the world – and to innovate, is something Minnesotans are incredibly proud of,” said Governor Walz. “I am incredibly proud we’re going to sign SF 1.”

Specifically, the bill includes a $5 million one-time investment in an innovative soybean processing and research facility near the University of Minnesota – Crookston that aims to increase profitability for soybean farmers. Additionally, the legislation makes a $5 million one-time investment in the Dairy Assistance Investment Relief Initiative (DAIRI) to provide financial aid to dairy farmers facing historically low milk prices. Dairy farmers enrolled in the new five year federal dairy protection program, a program for dairy farmers similar to crop insurance, are eligible for a cost share of their initial premium through the DAIRI initiative.

Further, the bill funds the Minnesota Border-to-Border Rural Broadband expansion program at $40 million over the next two years million, a significant increase in the legislature’s appropriation over the last biennium.

“From health care, to education, to small businesses, broadband access is essential to our way of life in the twenty-first century,” added Westrom. “Communities that lack access to broadband cannot flourish. This significant investment addresses this issue head-on.”

Additionally, the budget legislation prioritizes the most affordable forms of housing in Minnesota and places an emphasis on workforce housing and home ownership. Moreover, the legislation includes reforms to ensure each taxpayer dollar allocated for housing resources is spent wisely, cost effectively, and according to its purpose as outlined by the legislature. Lastly, the bill makes a significant investment in homeless prevention programs, such as the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program (FHPAP), Homework Starts with Home, which provides assistance to Minnesota families with school-aged children, and the Bridges program that helps adults struggling with mental illness maintain affordable housing.

“Historically, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency has not invested in manufactured housing,” concluded Senator Westrom. “By unit, it is the most affordable form of housing. While it is not a one-size-fits-all solution, this bill invests in expanding manufactured housing so that we can get the most affordable housing possible for the best value.”