Press Release

Welch-Championed Priorities for Rural Development and Energy Included in Senate’s Newly Unveiled Farm Bill 

May 1, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, Senate Democrats unveiled the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, which includes several priorities for rural communities championed by U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. The Farm Bill proposal comes after months of inaction by Republicans, who have blocked progress on bipartisan negotiations.  

“In Vermont and across the country, rural communities are facing unprecedented challenges, including an increase in extreme weather events and an affordability crisis. This legislation includes several bills I’m proud to have led that help strengthen rural communities, from building out high-speed broadband to expanding access to rural energy efficiency upgrades for homes, small-scale farms, and small businesses. Congress needs to get to work on a multi-year Farm Bill and advance policies that strengthen our farms, our rural communities, and our families,” said Senator Welch

In addition to Senator Welch’s policies to strengthen rural development and expand rural clean energy production and infrastructure, several of Sen. Welch’s other policy priorities—including bills to improve access to nutrition; support Vermont’s dairy, organic, and crop farmers; strengthen our local food systems and expand markets; and make our communities more resilient to flooding, were included in this Farm Bill.  

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act includes the following Welch priorities for Vermont and rural communities: 

Support Economic Growth and Opportunities in Rural America: 

  • This Farm Bill includes Senator Welch’s bipartisan ReConnecting Rural America Act, which would codify and clarify components of USDA’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program and, in so doing, reduce red tape, and speed broadband deployment. The ReConnect Program plays a central role in expanding access to high-speed broadband in rural America, where broadband access is severely limited compared to what is available in urban and suburban areas.    
  • This Farm Bill reauthorizes rural development programs such as the Rural Innovation for Strong Economy (RISE) program, REAP Zones, and Rural Development Loans and Grants. Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is a designated REAP Zone. 
  • This Farm Bill provides mandatory funding for the Community Facilities program to fund rural hospitals, childcare centers, and other essential rural infrastructure. 
  • This Farm Bill makes permanent a new rural partnership program to advance economic development in rural communities and help them overcome barriers to obtaining federal funding and resources. 
  • This Farm Bill expands rural development program eligibility to outdoor recreation businesses and improves interagency coordination on outdoor recreation, a priority of Vermont. In 2022, outdoor recreation accounted for 4.6% of the state’s GDP. 

Protects the Planet and Invests in Cleaner Rural Energy:  

  • This Farm Bill includes Sen. Welch’s bipartisan bill to improve USDA’s Rural Energy Savings Program, which provides no-interest loans to rural utilities to help communities access cost-effective energy upgrades for homes and businesses. With support from RESP, rural utilities can finance projects to electrify household heating and cooling, increase energy efficiency, and transition to renewable energy.  
  • This Farm Bill provides funding for rural water infrastructure to help small towns address emerging contaminants, such as ‘forever chemicals’ like PFAS, a priority Sen. Welch called for in his subcommittee hearing on rural America’s aging water infrastructure.  
  • This Farm Bill improves decentralized water testing for emerging contaminants like PFAS. 
  • Based on Sen. Welch’s Rural Energy Equity Act, the Farm Bill makes several improvements to the Rural Energy for America Program. These changes will make REAP more accessible for smaller rural businesses and farms and make the program more climate-friendly. 
  • This Farm Bill includes Sen. Welch’s bipartisan Heat pump Energy Assistance and Training (HEAT) Act. The HEAT Act would create a program within USDA to help deploy heat pumps in rural communities across the country, cut energy bills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • This Farm Bill improves the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to make greenhouse gas reduction a core purpose of the program and improves organic producer equity. 
  • This Farm Bill establishes the Patrick Leahy Wilderness Area in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont, named after former Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
  • With the inclusion of Sen. Welch’s bipartisan bill, the Invasive Species Prevention and Forest Restoration Act, the Farm Bill establishes a national policy to address threats posed to forest ecosystems by invasive species and identifies areas for interagency cooperation. 

Protects Farmland and Expands Access to Farming: 

  • This Farm Bill includes Sen. Welch’s Farmland Access Act, which improves Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) entity certification and buy-protect-sell provisions to help protect American farmland for its intended use and expand access to farming for the next generation. 
  • This Farm Bill includes Sen. Welch’s Future Farmers and Ranchers of Tomorrow Act, legislation to increase access to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs for young and new farmers by revising USDA’s “qualified beginning farmer or rancher” definition to allow non-related beginning farmers and ranchers in joint entities to be eligible for FSA loans. 
  • This Farm Bill improves access to credit by increasing limits on USDA direct and guaranteed farm loans and other improvements to lower barriers to farm loan programs

The Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act contains more than 100 pieces of legislation that aim to support our farms, create jobs, improve rural infrastructure, expand access to childcare and health care, support rural education and skills training, build out high-speed rural broadband, help rural homes and build more housing in rural America, assist homeowners and farms transition to greener energy and lower their utility bills, clean up our drinking water, conserve our land, and more. 

Read more about how the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act would help promote Vermont’s local food markets and systems, help Vermont farmers transition to organics, and support Vermont’s dairy farmers. 

Read more about how the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act would help improve access to nutrition for Vermont families. 

Read more about how the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act would provide disaster relief and resiliency for Vermont farmers and communities. 

Read a summary of the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act here.  

Read a section-by-section of the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act here.