Congresswoman Gonzalez-Colon reiterates her opposition to cockfight prohibition
Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jenniffer González Colón informed that H.R. 2, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the "Farm Bill", is currently pending for a full vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. All members of Congress continue to press for provisions benefitting their respective districts, just as she continues to do for Puerto Rico. Consideration of the bill is expected to begin on Wednesday, with a final vote likely taking place on Thursday.
The Congresswoman explained that last night’s agreement between House and Senate negotiators includes an amendment approved earlier this year in the House to prohibit cockfighting in all United States territories, a provision the Resident Commissioner and all territorial delegates tenaciously opposed.
If the measure becomes law, the territories would have a 12-month transitional period prior to the elimination of the fights. Discussions that could determine the bill’s fate are still ongoing due to the inclusion of some controversial provisions, such as work requirements in order to participate in certain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs.
"This amendment did not have a single public hearing. We have been working with all other territorial delegates to ensure it fails, but the reality is that this is the crudest portrayal of being a colony. Under the territory status, Puerto Rico lacks two senators and a voting delegation in the House. This prohibition is just another example of the outrageousness of living as a territory, without the necessary voting and representational power to impact changes in legislation. Last May, each of the territorial delegates, myself included, raised our voices on the House floor to oppose the amendment, and while at the time the bill was not approved, the amendment was included," recalled the Congresswoman.
González Colón stressed that this situation once again highlights the unequal treatment of the territories since it legislates on matters pertaining to jurisdictions that do not have a vote in Congress. In addition, and as the Congresswoman has previously explained, this amendment is supported by powerful organizations that characterize the sport of cockfighting as animal abuse. This interpretation has gained traction in Congress.
Benefits included in the "Farm Bill" for Puerto Rico
In addition to the amendment on cockfighting, the "Farm Bill" has other provisions that apply to Puerto Rico in a positive way, such as greater equality in the financing of USDA federal programs on the island.
This "Farm Bill" expands to territories including Puerto Rico, the authorization for cultivating industrial hemp in institutions of higher education, such as universities, and state departments of agriculture.
The crop would have to be exclusively for research purposes or as part of a pilot agriculture program. Industrial hemp is known for its economic viability. It has several uses, such as for providing material for clothes, shoes, products for hygienic use, including soap and creams, among others. Past versions of the Farm Bill excluded the territories from this program. The new version will now allow institutions of higher education on the island to participate and investigate the viability and uses of industrial hemp.
Another program that would benefit Puerto Rico would be the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program. The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program facilitates the purchase of fruits and vegetables for participants of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) through incentives at the point of purchase.
After the authorization of a proposal, the "grantees" will be evaluated based on the effectiveness and feasibility of achieving an increase in purchases of fruits and vegetables, which also improves the nutrition and health of beneficiaries.
Prior to the authorization of H.R. 2, the FINI program was only available to SNAP participants; however, the new "Farm Bill" allows the participation of Puerto Rico and therefore, beneficiaries of the Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as PAN on the island. The program has three categories, (1) FINI Pilot Programs- authorizes a maximum of $ 100,000 for a one-year period, (2) Community-based FINI projects for a maximum of 4 years- authorizes a maximum of $ 500,000, and (3) FINI projects on a large scale for a maximum of 4 years- authorizes a maximum of $ 500,000.
The Farm Bill also establishes a new program to support locally grown foods in areas within the United States that have significant levels of food insecurity and import a significant quantity of food, such as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the territories. Specifically, the “Micro-Grants for Food Security Grant” authorizes the distribution of grants in these jurisdictions to individuals, federally-funded educational facilities, tribes, religious organizations, and food banks to be used to increase the quantity and quality of locally grown food, including through small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations.
González Colón is working on several strategies regarding federal programs under USDA for the 116th Congress.