USDA crop insurance program cuts benefits to Rio Arriba farmers, acequia-irrigated lands

Last summer, the land where Rio Arriba county rancher Tony Casados grows hay for his cattle produced a bounty. He cut more than four tons from each acre. But this year, he’s seeing just over half a ton per acre. “I’m 74 years old, and in all my years of farming I have not seen a worse year than this year,” Casados said. “We have the acequias, but there’s no water in them.

Bakeries adjust to new marketplace during the pandemic

Whether people are staying home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus or due the summer heat, New Mexican bakeries are still selling their goods during the pandemic. The American food services sector has been facing decline since March due to businesses operating either at limited capacity or closing altogether, as well as a shrinking customer base while people eat at home more and eat at restaurants less. According a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the pandemic combined with stay-at-home orders in many states led to a 19.3 percent increase in spending at grocery stores and retail stores for eating at home in March 2020 over the year prior, as well as a 28.3 percent decrease in food-away-from-home spending in that same timeframe. Though grocery stores appear to be stocking up again on previously less accessible items like toilet paper and meat, food scarcity is still affecting bakeries across the country. 

Walking into a grocery store today, it may be commonplace to find smaller bags of flour packaged by hand from bulk bags in the baking section or some items missing altogether, like yeast or certain egg or flour products. Adrian Zavala, a manager at Busy B’s Bakery in Las Cruces, said the bakery has not experienced much difficulty finding ingredients since March.

Proper fire funding continues to elude Congress

On Sept. 14, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue officially declared that the 2017 fire season was the Forest Service’s most expensive ever, with costs topping $2 billion. Perdue noted that fire suppression, which accounted for just 16 percent of the agency’s budget in 1995, now takes up over 55 percent. “We end up having to hoard all of the money that is intended for fire prevention,” he wrote in a press release, “because we’re afraid we’re going to need it to actually fight fires.”
This story originally appeared at High Country News. The Forest Service’s fire funding is subject to a budget cap based on the average cost of wildfire suppression over the last 10 years.

Trump has secretive teams to roll back regulations, led by hires with deep industry ties

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts. Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone. The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

House Majority Leader gave staffer big contracts after the session ended

New Mexico lawmakers haven’t been in session for nearly seven months, but that didn’t stop the Majority Leader of the state House of Representatives from awarding more than $100,000 in contracts to his top staffer. But Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, defended the contracts of his de-facto chief of staff Ryan Gleason as “well worth the expenditure.”

Gentry snagged Gleason—an attorney who previously was a legislative assistant Sen. Pete Domenici, the New Mexico state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a research director for the state Taxation and Revenue Department—from state Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro. Gleason worked as Tripp’s full-time chief of staff from January 2015 through the end of this year’s general legislative session in February. Gentry’s position of majority leader is directly under Tripp in state House Republican leadership. Gleason’s switch from working for Tripp to working for Gentry reflects how the bulk of policy decisions in the House Republican leadership start with Gentry.

New allegations say food benefits falsification escalated in recent years

This month’s federal court hearing regarding ongoing claims by Human Services Department employees of widespread fraud within the department was notable for another reason besides three high state officials invoking their Fifth Amendment rights nearly 100 times. One former employee testified the department’s practice of adding fake assets to emergency food stamp applications in order to fix the department’s backlog of late applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program came directly from the department’s top brass. Shar Lynne Louis, a former employee at HSD’s Income Support Division (ISD) in Gallup who retired last summer, was one of nine current and former employees who gave testimony in the case over two hearings. Louis said she often reviewed the state’s policies and procedures and could never find anything in them justify adding fake assets. So she asked her superiors.