Illinois 9th Congressional District

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Jan Schakowsky (I)
Democrat
Jan Schakowsky
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Sargis Sangari
Republican

Sargis Sangari
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Contact Information
(773) 506-7100
benhead@janschakowsky.org
schakowsky.house.gov
773-383-9600
Team@VoteSangari.com
votesangari.com
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Jan Schakowsky (I)
Democrat
Sargis Sangari
Republican
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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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