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Pioneer Viewpoints for June 25

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Congress needs to get back to work on farm bill

Here’s hoping that Congress can revisit the farm bill debate and pass legislation important to a large number of Minnesotans.

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While you may not be a farmer or rancher, many programs funded through the federal farm bill still directly impact your life. A think tank, Minnesota 2020, was in Bemidji last week to talk about USDA Rural Development funds, which are funded through the farm bill.

And whether you believe Minnesota 2020’s claim as being a “nonpartisan progressive think tank,” the impact USDA Rural Development grants have in our area is unmistakable. As Pioneer reporter Bethany Wesley detailed last week, local projects receiving help in funding include $11 million for new Red Lake Tribal College construction, as well as low-interest USDA loans of $700,000 for a new Bemidji Community Arts Center and $300,000 for a new Bemidji Community Food Shelf site.

Bill Beyer, president of the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, summed it up best when he told Wesley “When you think of the farm bill, you think of farmers, but no, when you think of the farm bill, think of food, and everything that is related to food. Food stamps, WIC, lunch programs, all these kinds of programs would be devastated (by the proposed cuts). We would be devastated as a food shelf. It would be totally impossible for us to pick up the slack.”

Federal funding for food stamps, along with an overhaul of the dairy program, were the sticking points in the House version of the bill, which failed to garner enough votes on Thursday. The food stamp funding debate generally moved along party lines, and is a good debate to have, no doubt. But here in outstate Minnesota, poverty does not move along party lines. As Beyer told Wesley, the food shelf just last month served 118 families in one day last month and a total of 958 families in May.

The week that was

— The Bemidji area this week will see two stalwarts of the economic development mission in our area retire. Cliff Tweedale, executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, will work his last day Friday. Dave West, senior program officer of business finance for the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, also will work his last week. Both have contributed greatly to helping grow Bemidji and the surrounding communities into a center for economic growth. Jobs well done.

— And Bemidji and the surrounding areas continue to be a thriving hub of things to do. Some much for that old “there’s nothing to do here” line. From the annual Bemidji Library Book Festival, to the Playful Elements event downtown, to the One Voice Mixed Chorus, to the Eagles convention, to the Minnesota State Fire Department Association conference, it was another busy Bemidji area weekend. Here at The Pioneer, it seems every week we are having to pick and choose what great events we can preview and cover. If we missed yours, it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

— A need for affordable housing is always an issue in a growing community. News last week that more apartment units will be coming to Bemidji, along the south shore near the Sanford Center, is encouraging.

— And it was a treat to read about little Funkley, Minn., as it celebrated the 60th anniversary of the town’s trip to New York City and Washington, D.C. If you don’t recall, in 1953, the American Cancer Society, along with a textile company, sponsored a nationwide drive to collect used sheets to be used for cancer dressings.

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