Illinois 17th Congressional District

Back to 2020 Voter GuideView U.S. Senate Candidate Responses

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat

Cheri Bustos
Esther Joy King
Republican

Esther Joy King
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Contact Information
701-595-4914
tom@cheribustos.com
www.cheribustos.com
info@estherforcongress.com
www.estherforcongress.com
Social Media
@CheriBustosForCongressNo Response
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Candidate Background
Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
Education
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Experience
Born and raised in Illinois, Cheri worked as a reporter for nearly two decades. Later, she worked at one of the nation’s largest non-profit, non-denominational health systems in the nation – before, during and after passage of the Affordable Care Act. Before running against, and defeating, a sitting Republican Congressman in 2012, Cheri served on the East Moline City Council. Cheri lives in Moline with her husband, Gerry, the Sheriff of Rock Island County. They have three grown sons and two grandchildren.No Response
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Biographical Statement
Now in her fourth term representing Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, Cheri Bustos is a leader in the fight to lower health care costs, raise wages and get real results for hardworking families across our region.
Cheri comes from a long line of family farmers and currently serves on the House Agriculture Committee.
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1. Illinois ranks 6th in value of agricultural production, yet the Illinois Department of Agriculture estimated in 2011 that over 90% of the food purchased in Illinois came from out of state. As sources like the St Louis Federal Reserve Harvesting Opportunity and others conclude, local and regional food systems can have a positive economic impact. Support for local farm businesses increases the share of money recirculating in the local economy and helps local farm families access a greater share of the consumer expenditures on food. For more of the food we eat to be sourced locally, we would need more farmers raising diversified crops and livestock, and we need to reinvest in scale-appropriate infrastructure (such as regional mills, food hubs, livestock, and poultry processing) to process   and transport farm products.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What, if any, policies will you support to increase food security and build a vibrant local food economy?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
Regional and local food systems are an important part of growing and expanding food security. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I supported efforts to create the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP) – a rethinking of previous programs designed to develop markets for small and local farm businesses. Equally important, these reworking of programs helped ensure mandatory funding to help sustain these programs in the long term. Further, I have long supported strengthening crop insurance programs, including whole farm crop insurance, to better support small and medium sized divers operations. No Response
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2. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school meal programs help ensure that vulnerable Americans have access to sufficient food. The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), formerly FINI, provides extra funding for SNAP clients to buy fresh produce from local farmers. The Farm to School Grant Program connects children with fresh foods from local farms. These programs strengthen the local food system by putting money in the pockets of local farmers while alleviating hunger with nutritious health- promoting foods. These programs are also particularly important for communities of color who suffer disproportionate levels of food insecurity. However, many families and individuals in need are faced with considerable barriers to access due to restrictive eligibility requirements and insufficient funding. Farmers also face barriers in being able to accept online SNAP/EBT payments.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What will you support to increase the consumption of health-promoting foods by SNAP clients while ensuring the success of local farmers?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
The COVID-19 crisis has only exasperated already existing food challenges and the challenges of using SNAP assistance to purchase locally grown foods. The single most basic step we can take to increase access for those struggling with affording food is simple, increase the SNAP benefit. House Democrats have been fighting to increase the SNAP benefit, much like we did during the 2008 economic crisis, to help struggling families continue to put food on the table. This will also have the added benefit of injecting additional purchasing power into our food systems that can support local and regional food systems.
Further, I have joined with my colleagues – led by Representative DeLauro and Representative Fudge – to call on USDA to ensure the assistance already provided to combat this virus are also better supporting small, local and regional producers. This crisis has created real supply chain issues for all of agriculture – and government support can not only address those challenges for the largest producers.
Long term, we need to continue fighting for increased support and ease of use for federal food support to be used at local and regional markets. We need to better tie these markets into the regional economy and supply chain – like schools, local businesses and direct to consumer. As a member of the Agriculture Committee and now the Appropriations Committee, I am committed to making sure we continue to provide resources to support and grow local/small farmers and grow their markets.
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New Farmers
Farmer Chase Sanert of Sugar Grove Family Farm in Greenview holds a free range chicken from his farm. Chase raises 100% grass fed and finished beef, and pasture raised pork and chicken he sells direct-to-consumer, to restaurants and retail. Meat processing is among the most consolidated industries. Four meat processors control over 85% of the U.S. slaughter market, as well as 35% of cattle ranches and 65% of the poultry industry.

3. The average age of farmers is 58 and has been increasing over time, while the number of beginning farmers is a fraction of what’s needed to replace retiring farmers. Young and first-time farmers face significant barriers to   entry, including access to land, credit, and capital. A majority of this new generation come from non-farm backgrounds, operate smaller, more diversified farms, and are more interested in conservation practices to support soil and water health.

However, farmland consolidation makes it challenging for new farmers to compete with established operations to secure land. A compounding factor is how development pressures have been decreasing the amount of available farmland while increasing its price. The farm bill’s ACEP-ALE program has been an effective tool to permanently protect farmland and create affordability, but much more can be done to address this challenge.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What policies will you support to ensure access to land, credit, and capital for the next generation of farmers?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
If we are going to recruit a new generation of producers, we must make it easier to access land and equipment. During passage of the last Farm Bill, I championed the Farmers of Tomorrow Act – a bill designed to make it easier for new and beginning farmers, minority farmers, or veteran farmers to more easily qualify USDA farm loans. We must also continue expanding and growing microloan programs to help non traditional farmers get started and expand. I was proud that his legislation was included in the final passed legislation and has now been implemented. No Response
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4. In 1920, Black Americans made up 14% of U.S. farmers with 892 black farmers in Illinois. Due to the exploitation of heirs’ property by white developers and speculators and the racial discrimination in lending practices by the USDA (see Pigford v. Glickman), today Black Americans make up less than 2% of farmers nationwide with only 59 black farmers in Illinois. Agriculture in the U.S. has a long and cruel history of colonization, slavery, land dispossession, and labor exploitation. Although people of color make up 38% of the population, only 7% of farmers are people of color. People of color not only face barriers to access land, credit, and capital by systemic racism and discrimination but are actively dispossessed of land and wealth in our current system. Furthermore, farmworkers, in particular those in guest worker programs, are subject to poor wages, human rights abuses, and lack adequate access to health insurance or workers’ compensation. Some proposals from advocates include reparations for BIPOC people; reforms to the USDA administration; moratoriums on government foreclosures of Black land; debt forgiveness programs; reforms to labor laws and many others.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What policies will you support to address structural racism in the food system?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
Much like with new and beginning producers, the first step is to ensure black farmers, other farmers of color and women farmers have adequate access to land and equipment – which ultimately requires access to credit. My Farmers of the Tomorrow Act will make it easier to access USDA financing. But history has demonstrated that relying on equitable government implementation of programs is not enough – we must take steps to ensure the Office of Civil Rights at the Department has the tools and resources necessary to stand up for those who are discriminate against. In addition, we need to ensure food and farm workers have the appropriate workplace protections. That is why I think it is so important that we protect and expand the right of all workers to organize. Unions have long been a driver of protector of gains in the workplace and help us fight for adequate pay, healthcare and workplace safety – that is true for farm workers as well. No Response
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5. In addition to access to land and capital, urban farmers face many unique barriers including permits and licensing, secure land tenure, and soil remediation. Historically, urban farms have relied on programs not specifically targeted for urban farming like the Community Food Projects (CFP) or the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Along with not being designed specifically for urban farming, these programs have faced cuts.

Youth and adults work together to trellis tomatoes during an Advocates for Urban Agriculture training program at a farm site in Chicago. According to the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project, the city of Chicago is home to over 80 urban farms and nearly 300 community gardens.

Funding for CFP was reduced by about 45% in the 2018 farm bill. Most existing local urban programs provide assistance that is geared more towards gardeners and hobbyists, rather than commercial, career farmers. There was an effort to address the issues of urban agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill by authorizing $10 million in annual appropriations through FY2023 in grant funding for research, education, and extension, as well as the creation of the “Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Forms of Production” which has yet to be fully implemented.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

Considering these challenges, how should we tackle federal planning for urban agriculture and ensure that urban farmers do not fall through the cracks?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
The key for urban farmers – much like for farmers elsewhere – is creation and maintenance of markets for them to sell their products. But we also must make sure they have the tools to get started. As we continue to grow and expound on programs like LAMP, which I helped pass in the Farm Bill, or the financing tools – such as additional micro loans – we need to ensure that our urban farmers have access to the same tools and assistance available to other producers. While urban farmers face unique barriers as they start up, they also have unique access to larger markets with restaurants, consumers and other businesses that are harder to reach for many farmers in more rural region and we must sure they are positioned to take advantage of those opportunities.No Response
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6. The farm and food sectors are experiencing unprecedented corporate consolidation leading to unfair market conditions for family farmers that drive down wages for workers and hurt rural communities. Consolidation throughout the industry, including the agrochemical sector, means that farmers pay more for inputs like seed and fertilizers. The projected median farm income for 2020 is negative $1,449. Farm household income for most farmers comes from off-farm jobs and government subsidies. With low incomes and high operational costs, farmers are amassing debt, and loan delinquencies are rising. Some proposals include placing a moratorium on large agribusiness, instituting supply management programs, updating the Packers and Stockyard Act, and more.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

Do you believe accelerating consolidation in the farm input and food processing industry is a problem, and what will you support to ensure a level playing field for farmers?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
Conditions – particularly in the last few years – have made it increasingly difficult for small and new and beginning farmers. As much of the farm economy has moved to operations of scale, these producers have been forced to identify and target to new markets and consumers. Many of these producers have been tremendously effective and helped lead to a growing movement across our country focused on small and local farmers. Unfortunately, the downturn in market prices and the COVID-19 pandemic have severely harmed many of these same producers as they have seen these developed markets shut down or screech to near halt. It is clear that these producers need support and tools to ensure they remain competitive and that consolidation does not further damage and drive out small and local farmers and producers. This involves robust use of the market tools and oversight by regulators to ensure that large agribusinesses are not manipulating the market. Unfortunately, the downturn in market prices and the COVID-19 pandemic have severely harmed many of these same producers as they have seen these developed markets shut down or screech to near halt. It is clear that these producers need support and tools to ensure they remain competitive and that consolidation does not further damage and drive out small and local farmers and producers. This involves robust use of the market tools and oversight by regulators to ensure that large agribusinesses are not manipulating the market.No Response
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Water Quality
Farmer Steve Buxton of Two Mile Creek Organic Farm in Sullivan holds a piece of earth planted with cover crops. “Our lake, thought to have near endless life and community benefits, could be lost to silt,” Steve said. “This is tied to the direct reflection of soils leaving the area farms. When soil moves it carries anything contained within it. Organic matter is being depleted.”

7. A major problem affecting our water is nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from fertilizers and animal waste that go into nearby waters or leach into groundwater causing adverse effects on the environment and people’s health.

Sustainable farming practices such as cover cropping, no-till, and conservation buffers have proven benefits in reducing nutrient runoff. These practices improve soil health by keeping more nutrients in the farm system, reducing erosion, and improving water storage ability. With low commodity prices in the past 6 years and high operational costs, farmers are strapped for cash and often cannot afford the extra up-front cost of soil health practices despite its long-term benefits. Programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) help fund investment in these soil health practices but the demand for assistance is often greater than available funding.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

How will you address the issue of agricultural runoff and water quality?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
In 2019 in rolled out my Rural Green Partnership. This policy framework was designed to tackle our climate challenges and calls for investment in soil health and conservation practices that will both reduce agriculture’s climate impact and have the added benefit of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus run off. Further, I have introduced the GROW Act which calls for a robust increase in agriculture research so that we continue to develop the tools and techniques to address the challenges of water quality and climate impact. No Response
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Cover Crops
Farmer Bryce Hubbard of Pleasant Hill kneels to look at the cover crops on his field. Cover crops are typically planted after harvest to “cover” the field and prevent bare soils. They are a conservation tool used to protect against soil erosion and run-off, build organic matter, and capture carbon.

8. Farmers are at the forefront of the climate crisis. They face increasing threats to their livelihood from drought, severe weather events, and higher than normal temperatures. Sustainable agriculture’s focus on soil health plays a significant role in the climate change solution through carbon capture. Storing carbon in the soil is the cheapest   and easiest method of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while also improving yields because of improved soil quality.

Agricultural research that focuses on improving farm and community resilience to climate change is crucial to informing technical innovation and climate-ready production systems. Although soil health and sustainable farming practices build greater resilience and farm viability, farmers transitioning to such practices face steep barriers and often need technical and financial assistance.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What steps will you propose to assist farmers in becoming part of the solution to climate change?

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Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
In 2019 in rolled out my Rural Green Partnership. This policy framework was designed to tackle our climate challenges and calls for investment in soil health and conservation practices that will both reduce agriculture’s climate impact and have the added benefit of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus run off. Further, I have introduced the GROW Act which calls for a robust increase in agriculture research so that we continue to develop the tools and techniques to address the challenges of water quality and climate impact. No Response
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9. Farmers are an aging population working in one of the most dangerous industries in the country. To access health insurance, farmers depend on off-farm jobs, taking time away from the farm and hindering efforts to scale up. In rural areas, declining populations lead to hospital consolidations leaving many rural farmers and eaters with few options for quality care and in precarious situations when emergencies arise. Telemedicine has been helpful but broadband access is still out of reach for millions in rural America. Further, researchers have found that without competition between multiple providers, insurance premiums in rural areas are significantly higher than in urban areas. Many healthcare reform proposals include a public healthcare system, a public option, premium subsidies, caps on payments, and reinsurance. Some states have allowed farmer-owned co-op members to purchase group health insurance rates to lower the cost to individuals.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

Considering these factors, what do you support to guarantee access and affordability to quality healthcare?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
Healthcare is a basic need of all people. In rural areas, we face the dual challenge of costs AND access (literal distance to providers). I strongly support efforts to expand telemedicine – including my Special Registration for Telemedicine Act to make it easier to prescribe medicines remotely -, bolster rural hospitals and health providers, protect and expand insurance supports under the Affordable Cares Act and reduce the costs of prescription drugs. I also have introduced the Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Act which helps local governments create their own plans to combat the kinds of social factors that can impact the health of their local populations – and for farmers and rural regions, that means targeting the structure directly impacting their access to care.No Response
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10. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on our health while underscoring some of the deepest cracks in our food system. It has highlighted longstanding issues in the food system including the systemic inequalities of food access for low-income households and communities of color. It has caused some food and supply shortages in grocery stores where long supply chains struggled early on to stock shelves amidst the increased demand. At the same time, farmers are forced to dump milk and euthanize their farm animals while families struggle to access food because the inflexibility of a centralized food system and a lack of regional food infrastructure prevents fulfilling local demand or selling directly to consumers. Across slaughterhouses and farm fields, food chain workers are deemed essential but insufficient PPE, low-wages, lack of access to health care, and no paid sick leave put them at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.

Learn more about these issues from our Eat-Drink-Vote Series

What do you support to ensure equitable access to nutritious foods, protection for food chain workers, and a more resilient local food supply during this ongoing crisis and potential future crises?

Cheri Bustos (I)
Democrat
Esther Joy King
Republican
During this crisis, the Administration has doubled down further on redistricting and limiting access to key supports, like SNAP. Further, it appears the resources provided for response to the crisis have not flowed equitably to small and local producers. Going forward, our response packages need to increase SNAP benefits, limit the Administration’s rules to further restrict those that can get benefits, ensure future USDA assistance is more equitably distributed and that the department takes additional steps to strengthen and maintain regional and local markets. No Response
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Thank you, Voter Guide Partners!

Advocates for Urban AgricultureAngelic Organics Learning Center Chicago Food Policy Action Council Family Farmed FoodWorks Illinois Farmers Market Association Illinois Stewardship Alliance The Land Connection Openlands Seven Generations Ahead HEAL Food Alliance Izaak Walton League of America National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition