Senate Republicans prioritize rural broadband, value-added agriculture, and affordable workforce housing in final agriculture budget bill

Also invests in farmer mental health, manufactured housing, and home ownership

During the upcoming special session, the Minnesota Senate is set to approve the final comprehensive agriculture, rural development, and affordable housing budget bill championed by Senate Republicans. The budget legislation 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, not the growth of bureaucracy in St. Paul,” said Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee and chief-author of the legislation. “Low commodity prices have severely impacted the agriculture community, especially dairy and soybean farmers. This bill 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.”

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 who are facing historically low milk prices.

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.”