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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

Sweeping Changes To U.S. Tax Code A Mixed Bag For Farmers, Rural Hospitals

The tax reform proposal could benefit small-town businesses, but it could also undermine programs that support rural hospitals if the national debt grows.
File: Grant Gerlock
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Harvest Public Media
The tax reform proposal could benefit small-town businesses, but it could also undermine programs that support rural hospitals if the national debt grows.

Many rural businesses and farms will benefit from the tax overhaul passed Wednesday by Congress. But there’s a catch: If the changes fail to spur economic growth as intended, programs that rural areas rely on could be on the chopping block.

One provision in the massive bill, which President Trump has yet to sign into law, allows small business owners to deduct 20 percent of their business income. It also expands the deduction for small business investment — a popular provision among farmers, who can write off the cost of things like a new tractor.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue praised the legislation, which includes a $1.5 trillion tax cut and changes the individual tax code.

“Having traveled through our nation’s heartland for most of this year, I know that the hard-working, tax-paying people of American agriculture need relief,” the Republican said. “Most family farms are run as small businesses, and they should be able to keep more of what they earn to reinvest in their operations and take care of their families.”

Business owners will have a limited time to enjoy their new tax perks, as most are set to expire by 2025 unless extended by Congress.

“That’s something we advocated for throughout this process is whatever you did, make it permanent,” said Jordan Dux, director of national affairs for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “Unfortunately, that’s not how it ended up.”

Unless the tax cuts spur an economic surge as Republicans hope, $1.4 trillion will be added to the national deficit over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That could put pressure on lawmakers to cut spending, and considering the agriculture and nutrition policies in the farm bill are up for reauthorization in 2018, they could be the first to see cuts.

“That’s a big problem,” Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said. “For infrastructure, for the (farm) income safety net, for research.”

The farm bill includes crop insurance subsidies, land-grant university research funding and rural business investment within its wide-ranging portfolio. Dux expects any cuts to farm bill programs to be focused on federal food assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which Perdue is already making changes to.

The tax legislation could negatively — and inadvertently — affect the rural health care industry, too. It repeals the penalty for not buying insurance under the Affordable Care Act, so if fewer people buy insurance, hospitals may end up providing more uncompensated care.

At the same time, an increase in the national debt could trigger automatic cuts to Medicare reimbursements, which rural hospitals are more reliant on than urban counterparts.

“There’s sort of this dual threat that Congress will cut other important health care programs in order to pay for these tax cuts,” according to Maggie Elewhany of the National Rural Health Association. “That would be devastating across rural America.”

Congress would have to vote to cancel the automatic cuts, she said.

Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock

Copyright 2017 Harvest Public Media

Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.
Grant Gerlock
Grant Gerlock is Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.