Sec. of Agriculture nominee plans to prioritize food security and climate change

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Sec. of Agriculture nominee plans to prioritize food security and climate change
Former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
  • Sec. of Agriculture nominee Tom Vilsack said he will prioritize climate change and food security as head of the USDA.
  • Vilsack urged Congress to create an advisory board of farmers to monitor carbon emissions in farming.
  • President Joe Biden proposed funding for nutrition programs, and Vilsack plans to act on Biden's proposals to combat food insecurity.

Sec. of Agriculture nominee Tom Vilsack said during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he plans to prioritize efforts to address climate change and food insecurity, which are main issues in President Joe Biden's stimulus plan.

Vilsack, who served as the head of the Dept. of Agriculture under former President Barack Obama, told lawmakers during his hearing that he recognizes the economic hardships Americans have faced from the pandemic and will work to ensure the USDA pushes food insecurity to the top of its agenda. Climate change was also a widely discussed issue, and Vilsack stressed that agriculture could play an essential role in addressing the crisis.

"There's an opportunity for us to create new market incentives for soil health, for carbon sequestration, for methane capture and reuse," Vilsack said.

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He urged Congress to create an advisory group of farmers to provide guidance on how to structure the carbon market and noted that any policy to reduce carbon emissions would be voluntary, and that it "has to be structured and devised and designed in a way in which the principal beneficiaries are farmers."

The USDA is also responsible for overseeing nutrition programs, and Biden included funding for those programs in his stimulus plan to address the significant amount of Americans dealing with food insecurity during the pandemic.

Vilsack said he will make it easier to apply for nutrition benefits, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and noted the need to look at the level of SNAP benefits provided, implying that larger benefits will be needed in the future.

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A study published in the American Medical Association found that more than 20% of people earning between $50,000 and $75,000 per year reported food insecurity during the pandemic, emphasizing a need for increased aid in stimulus proposals.

The Senate Agriculture Committee advanced Vilsack in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, and he now faces confirmation in the Senate.

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