Times Union: Delgado: Raise bankruptcy debt caps for farmers
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado on Tuesday pushed forward legislation that would lift the debt ceiling on farmers seeking bankruptcy protection in order to rebuild their finances in what the first-term lawmaker from Rhinebeck called “a down farm economy.”
“This story is not unique to NY-19, or upstate New York,” Delgado said in testimony before the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee. “This is an urgent, national issue for our farmers.”
Delgado, who had little background in agricultural issues before his successful campaign last year to unseat Republican incumbent John Faso, has made support of family farms a centerpiece of his freshman legislative agenda.
As a member of the Agriculture Committee, he is in position to play a key role in propping up a farm economy in economic turmoil.
“Prices are low, inputs are high, and current trade policies make the future unknown,” Delgado said in his testimony. He quoted a 2018 study as saying that “net farm income is expected to remain flat over the next 10 years and, when accounting for inflation, to fall in real terms.”
Farmers increasingly are fighting the downward trend by consolidating, or putting their properties up for sale. The USDA found that the number of farms in New York dropped by 2,100 (6 percent) between 2012 and 2017.
Delgado is co-author of a bipartisan bill, the Family Farmer Relief Act, which would raise the debt ceiling on farmers declaring bankruptcy under Chapter 12 — a form of bankruptcy designed for farmers and fishermen — from $3.2 million to $10 million.
“Lifting the cap will allow farmers to retain assets and continue farm operation,” Delgado said, noting the bill has the support of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union.
“Allowing farmers increased flexibility is critical to the health and wellness of our family farmers and the upstate economy at large,” he said.
The policy changed is opposed by the American Bankers Association.
New York’s 19th Congressional District straddles both sides of the Hudson south of Albany. Delgado maintains offices in Kingston, Liberty, Delhi and Oneonta. His district is the eighth most rural in the nation and the third most rural represented by a Democrat, with more than 5,000 farms and 8,000 farm operators.
It ranks sixth among New York congressional districts in total value of agricultural products, sixth in milk from cows and fifth in vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The New York Farm Bureau noted what it called “bright spots” in the state’s farm economy: a 35 percent increase in organic farms, growing from 864 farms in 2012 to 1,330 in 2017, and a 15 percent uptick in maple operations.