U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said Thursday in Lawrence that President Barack Obama’s jobs bill would give an economic boost to the state along with the free-trade agreements Congress passed Wednesday.
“We think those really put us on the voyage to recovery so we’re really focused on that,” said Merrigan, who visited The Merc, 901 Iowa, to talk about local and regional food systems before heading to meetings in Manhattan.
Merrigan was also in Kansas touting the administration’s economic strategy and the USDA’s rural job creation efforts. She said Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act would give an estimated payroll tax cut to 60,000 Kansas firms, include $359 million in the state to support highway and transit modernization projects, and extend unemployment insurance for more than 35,000 unemployed Kansans.
“Small business is the focus of the jobs act and this administration because we think that’s the real engine for the growth of the economy,” she said.
Congress might pass an amended version of Obama’s bill, she said. Senate Republicans killed the proposal in a Tuesday night vote, and GOP senators proposed their own Jobs Through Growth Act Thursday that included overhauling the nation’s tax laws, cutting business rules and boosting offshore oil exploration.
Merrigan said Kansas would already benefit from the free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama Congress, which open up markets for Kansas beef and grain producers.
“(Wednesday) was a really, really big day for agriculture here in Kansas,” she said. “Big.”
In Lawrence, Merrigan sat at a table at The Merc, a customer-owned natural foods store that focuses on organic and locally grown food, and heard about school gardens to help students learn about locally grown food and the importance of eating healthy. State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, was among the group.
Rita York, The Merc’s general manager, said Merrigan supports a focus on local and regional food systems and that she was happy to hear what types of federal assistance could be available.
“The opportunity to scale up to serve a greater percentage of our population with local food is, I think, quite vast, but we need the infrastructure in there,” York said. “We need aggregation of the locally grown crops. We need distribution, and we need light processing. There’s just a lot that’s needed.”
Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, the local food and farmers market project director for the Kansas Rural Center, said she was glad Merrigan could visit northeast Kansas.
“We’re in the infancy here of developing a strong regional food system,” she said, “so we’re hoping for some opportunities to grow.”