Under leadership of Michigan Sen. Roger Victory, CSG’s Midwestern Legislative Conference will explore policies to improve food security in the region’s states and provinces

Michigan Sen. Roger Victory has chosen improving food insecurity as the focus of his Midwestern Legislative Conference Chair’s Initiative for 2023. Throughout Victory’s year-long tenure as chair, the MLC will develop resources and programming to support the initiative as well as the work of state and provincial legislators in this important policy area.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2021, more than 10 percent of U.S. households were not “food secure.” This means they did not have access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

“Improving food security throughout our communities has the potential to positively impact the lives of the people we serve and promote generational change and growth,” Sen. Victory says.

In December 2022, Michigan Sen. Roger Victory officially assumed his duties as chair of CSG’s Midwestern Legislative Conference, a nonpartisan, binational association of state and provincial legislators that fosters regional cooperation, information sharing and leadership development.

Legislative colleagues from the Midwest chose Sen. Victory for the position in July at the 2022 MLC Annual Meeting. First elected to the Michigan Legislature in 2012, Sen. Victory served six years in the House before moving to the Senate. During the most recent biennium, he served as chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and as assistant majority whip. He owns Victory Farms LLC, a year-round specialty crop producer, as well as Victory Sales LLC, a national produce distributor.

All legislators from 11 Midwestern states and one Canadian province are members of the MLC: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Saskatchewan, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In addition, members of the legislative assemblies in three Canadian provinces — Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario — are MLC affiliates.

CSG is the nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. It offers regional, national and international opportunities for state officials to collaborate, develop leadership skills and create problem-solving partnerships. The national organization is headquartered in Lexington, Ky. The CSG Midwest office is located in Lombard (Chicago).

The post Under leadership of Michigan Sen. Roger Victory, CSG’s Midwestern Legislative Conference will explore policies to improve food security in the region’s states and provinces appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Long a Hallmark of the U.S.-Canada Relationship, Binational Energy Trade Has Room To Grow Further

Across many policy areas, during times of domestic and international instability, nations often turn to their closest allies for reliability and security.

Thankfully for the United States and Canada, they’ve never had to look far.

A case in point: energy policy, especially today amid considerable global uncertainty and changing demands closer to home.

“The U.S. and Canada are essential trade partners in energy,” says Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The U.S. is far and away the biggest export market for Canada, and Canada is one of the most critical suppliers to the U.S.”

‘Huge Volume of Crude’

The nature of this energy trade can vary considerably across the two countries’ shared 5,525-mile border.

In the Pacific Northwest, natural gas from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is moved to markets on the U.S. side of the border. Between New England and Canada, Cahill says, there is considerable trade in both electricity and fuel products.

In the Midwest, one type of energy trade has tended to dwarf others — the “huge volume of crude that is sent to the U.S. refining system,” Cahill says.

Among all 50 states, for example, Illinois has the largest energy trade relationship with Canada, driven largely by imports of crude oil.

The state, in fact, has the most economic activity in the nation from the processing of Canadian heavy crude oil, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Alberta, Canada’s leading producer of oil and natural gas, had a $69 billion energy trade market with the United States in 2020.

One benefit of all this cross-border activity has been a strengthening of energy security for both nations; for instance, an increase in Canadian imports is one reason why the United States has been able to decrease oil imports from OPEC countries by 70 percent since 2019.

This energy relationship entails much more than crude oil, though.

Canada and the United States help power each other’s homes and businesses, and at both the federal and state-provincial levels of government, leaders are looking at ways to deepen this part of the relationship.

“Since the U.S. and Canadian grids are integrated in pretty significant ways, I can envision a future where we’ll have much more cross-border electricity trade,” Cahill says.

“So bringing people together at the regional level and national level to talk about this stuff and plan it out will be quite important.”

How Manitoba, Minnesota Connected on Clean Energy

U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and Canadian Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan launched a memorandum of understanding in June 2021 that lists 15 cooperative activities to help secure the electric grid and progress toward a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

This new cooperative agreement also came with a first-ever analysis of how building international transmission capacity and better integrating the two countries’ renewable energy resources can make North America’s electricity grid cleaner and more resilient.

The U.S. and Canada already share a decent amount of electricity, and of the 57 major transmission lines between the U.S. and Canada, 20 are located in the Midwest.

However, many of these are older transmission lines that connect grids based on fossil fuel sources.

New cross-border transmission lines with improved infrastructure, higher voltages and renewable sources will be necessary in the coming decades as more cars and homes run on electricity.

“We need to build redundancy into our energy systems,” Cahill says. “We need to plan for the worst-case scenarios rather than the best-case scenarios when planning for the energy transition. We can’t assume that the smoothest, most rapid transition away from fossil fuels will happen.”

“That means that we need to build everything. It’s ‘both and,’ not ‘either or.’”

Building newer, clean-energy transmission lines is easier said that done, though. One example from outside the Midwest shows the time that these projects can take and the obstacles they face.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express is a proposed high-voltage line that will connect hydropower and wind energy from Québec to the New York City area.

Beginning in 2010, the project has faced considerable public scrutiny, and having just secured financing and with government permitting still under way, the project seems unlikely to be completed as scheduled by 2025.

But there also are instances of successful, newly completed cross-border transmission line projects.

In the Midwest, Minnesota Power’s 224-mile Great Northern Transmission Line (GNTL) opened in 2020. It crosses northern Minnesota to a point near the town of Roseau. From there, it connects with Manitoba Hydro’s 132-mile Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project (MMTP), which begins in Winnipeg.

The GNTL delivers clean hydropower from Manitoba to residential and industrial consumers in northern and central Minnesota.

The line was built as part of Minnesota Power’s larger Great Northern Renewable Energy Initiative, which set a goal of having 50 percent of its electric supply come from renewable sources by 2025.

This initiative also involved the creation of the 500-megawatt Bison Wind Energy Center in North Dakota and the purchase of an existing 465-mile transmission line from North Dakota to Minnesota.

Minnesota Power reached its 50 percent renewable mark for the initiative five years early, in 2020.

The company now aims to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

One might think that a northern Minnesota utility does not have the customer base to really contribute to the clean electrification of the economy, but more than half of Minnesota Power’s supply goes to massive industrial customers such as taconite mines and paper mills.

With the GNTL-MMTP connection, cleaner energy from Manitoba is being delivered to these customers.

Why Cross-Border Lines Make Sense in the Midwest

More transmission increases grid reliability, says Daryl Maxwell, Manitoba Hydro’s transmission services and compliance department manager.

“By building more transmission, you provide multiple paths for the energy to travel from the generator to the customer. If one path is constrained, there is an alternative path to deliver the energy to the customer without interruption,” he says.

“So, when you expand your transmission system from a radial system (single path) to a network system (multiple paths) you increase transmission reliability.”

From a generation perspective, Manitoba on average produces more hydropower than it consumes. And when looking to offload this extra electricity, it makes sense for Manitoba Hydro to look to the United States because if there is a large supply of water to produce hydropower in Manitoba, there probably is a large supply in Saskatchewan and northwest Ontario as well.

Likewise, on the demand side, when Manitoba is using less electricity in the summer (there is more Manitoba demand in the winter due to space heating than summer air conditioning), there is often similarly reduced demand to the west and east.

However, electricity demand to the south, in the United States, has traditionally been highest in the summer. When air conditioners are kicking at full speed in Minneapolis in August, Manitoba Hydro can sell and send its excess hydropower to keep things running.

And the trade doesn’t just go from north to south.

“It absolutely flows both ways, and that’s one of the cruxes of this resiliency, a reliability-based infrastructure that is the GNTL,” says Julie Pierce, vice president of strategy and planning for Minnesota Power.

“It allows us to optimize the systems and the renewable clean energy prevalent in the United States and Manitoba.”

By combining North Dakota wind power and Manitoba hydropower, the project has helped create a grid that can rely on once source of carbon-free energy when conditions do not allow for the other to operate efficiently.

“It was very important during the [2021 Manitoba] drought that the line could flow energy to the north,” Pierce says. “And during Winter Storm Uri, it was really important that the line was in service as that power flowed south and helped the upper Midwest.”

In this way, the GNTL-MMTP connection essentially acts as a battery. When wind power is abundant in the United States, Manitoba Hydro can pool its water (partly using wind energy to hold the water behind the turbines).

When wind power is lacking or when demand peaks, Manitoba Hydro can release more water and increase its hydropower output heading south.

While the Manitoba-Minnesota project is now operating efficiently and effectively, getting to this point was not easy. From the start of planning in 2012 to completion, the project took about eight years.

A certificate of need was required from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission; it was granted in 2015. The commission also had to approve a route permit. That occurred in 2016, the same year that the U.S. Department of Energy issued a presidential permit, which was required to connect to Manitoba Hydro’s system at the U.S.-Canadian border.

Finally, right-of-way permissions were needed from several local governments along the 224-mile transmission lines, including the sovereign Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.

Along the way, too, utilities had to secure what Maxwell calls the “social license” — acceptance of the transmission line from various stakeholders concerned about it. Without proper engagement, he says, projects can often fail on regulatory licensing because of opposition from stakeholders.

This is where legislators and other policymakers on both sides of the border can make a big difference.

“Bring the people together to create greater acceptance [of these cross-border energy projects],” Maxwell says. “I think the role for government is to provide that leadership.”

Additionally, as electricity demand and the need to integrate clean energy grows, completing new international and inter-regional transmission lines in a timely manner becomes essential.

“It took us over 10 years to bring this line to fruition,” Pierce says.

“If we want to meet the goals that we have between our two nations and for North American more broadly, and even the globe, we’re going to need to get better at process and streamlining that ability to build infrastructure through thoughtful coordination and reform.”

The post Long a Hallmark of the U.S.-Canada Relationship, Binational Energy Trade Has Room To Grow Further appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Though nearly all Midwest states allow for compassionate release of elderly, terminally ill incarcerated residents, obstacles often stand in way

For people lucky enough to reach an advanced age, the ability to receive competent geriatric care and “die with dignity” is enviable.

For elderly individuals in incarceration, such end-of-life experiences are even rarer.

With the exception of Iowa, every state has processes in place allowing for the release of certain incarcerated offenders who are nearing the end of their lives — commonly referred to as “compassionate release.”

However, according to comparative state research conducted by FAMM (formerly Families Against Mandatory Minimums), such releases continue to be used infrequently due to numerous bureaucratic barriers.

Mary Price, general counsel for FAMM and author of the 2018 report “Everywhere and Nowhere: Compassionate Release in the States,” says the issue is not whether prison facilities are capable or equipped to care for elderly offenders, but whether such an environment is ever appropriate for terminal individuals.

“Prisons aren’t the place to host people who are so ill that they may not be able to comprehend the fact of their imprisonment or to benefit at all from it,” Price says. “Imprisonment has lost any meaning for them or for us as a society. We are no longer in danger of being harmed by that person, if we were, or concerned about whether they would re-offend.”

Between 1993 and 2013, the number of people age 55 years and older housed in state prisons increased by 400 percent, accounting for 10 percent of overall state prison populations in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Others have estimated this age group could represent close to one-third of all state and federal prison populations by 2030.

“It’s very costly if you don’t have a [compassionate release] program or you have a program that doesn’t get used — because those people are very expensive to imprison,” says Price. “They may have durable medical needs in terms of equipment. They have to be housed sometimes in special units. They may need ventilators or round-the-clock nursing care.”

In an effort to raise awareness amongst policymakers, FAMM in October released evaluations of all states’ compassionate release policies, based on elements ranging from eligibility criteria and release procedures to data collection and right to counsel (see graphic for the organization’s full rubric).

Need for greater clarity

Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin received variations of an “F” grade, yet got high marks for certain aspects of their compassionate release policies.

The eligibility criteria used in Wisconsin’s “sentence modification due to extraordinary health condition or age” policy, for example, was credited as a “model of clarity and breadth” for providing “very clear descriptions of what constitutes extraordinary health conditions and includes easy-to-understand examples of qualifying conditions.”

FAMM also deemed Wisconsin’s release planning policies as the “crown jewel” of the program because, “it starts early, is comprehensive, and includes assistance with applying for benefits and finding housing and funding.”

In addition, Illinois, South Dakota, and Wisconsin were commended for not revoking an offender’s compassionate release if the person’s medical condition improves.

Nonetheless, most states in the region earned low grades for possessing policies that were deemed confusing or contradictory, place undue burden on impaired offenders to start the application process, use vague or restrictive definitions of what it means to be “near death,” and other reasons.

Iowa, which does not currently provide for compassionate release, was the only state to receive an automatic zero grade from FAMM.

Attempts to change the state’s policies have been made, however. In 2021, for example, HF 377 included a provision that would have allowed for people convicted of a Class A felony offense — which usually includes a life sentence — to be able to petition for a commutation if diagnosed with a terminal illness or they became medically incapacitated.

Although that bill never made it out of committee, a neighboring state did pass a similar proposal that same year.

The Illinois model

Illinois was the only Midwestern state (and one of just five nationwide) to receive an “A.” However, this lauded status was not always the case.

“The process for applying for medical release was complicated, burdensome, took a very long time and required executive action by the governor,” says Illinois Rep. Will Guzzardi.

That led him in 2021 to introduce the Joe Coleman Medical Release Act, a bill (HB 3665) named after a Vietnam War veteran who had been in prison since the early 1980s for multiple robberies and whose family had tried for years to secure his release due to failing health.

“When Joe Jr., Joe’s son, was in the car driving to Springfield to get the final paperwork, it had to be notarized and then hand-delivered to some bureaucrat in Springfield in order to secure his father’s release, and as he was in the car on the road to Springfield, his father passed away in prison,” Guzzardi recalls.

HB 3665 was signed into law that August. As a result, offenders and other parties (for example, family members, attorneys and doctors) now can petition the Prisoner Review Board for an incarcerated individual to transition to mandatory supervised release if he or she is suffering from a terminal illness or is deemed medically incapacitated.

“Terminal illness” is defined as an incurable condition that will most likely result in death within 18 months. “Medically incapacitated” is defined as a medical condition or cognitive disorder, developed after sentencing, that prevents an individual from completing more than one activity of daily living — for example, feeding, personal hygiene, dressing or toileting.

The new policy applies retroactively to all incarcerated individuals regardless of when they were sentenced. Applicants can file for compassionate release multiple times, and the Prisoner Review Board must consider victim reports when evaluating release claims.

Despite receiving an overall high score, Illinois’ release planning policy earned low marks from FAMM for placing too much of the onus on the petitioners to find housing and medical support upon release. In comparison, states such as Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin earned praise in the FAMM study for their release planning procedures.

Guzzardi agrees this is an area that needs to be addressed.

“The [Illinois Department of Corrections] has not yet created a strong enough system to connect these folks who are going home with the medical care they’re undeniably going to need,” he says.

“So far, most of the successful petitions under the act have been with the help of nonprofit legal aid clinics — specifically the Illinois Prison Project … But ultimately, this shouldn’t be an ad hoc thing that falls to the well-intentioned nonprofit sector. This should be the responsibility of the state.”

The post Though nearly all Midwest states allow for compassionate release of elderly, terminally ill incarcerated residents, obstacles often stand in way appeared first on CSG Midwest.

State of health coverage in the Midwest: Four takeaways from studies showing a drop in uninsured, but continued disparities and rising costs

In 2022, several studies of trends in health insurance coverage found generally good news: since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2011, the percentage of Americans without health insurance coverage has dropped from 15.1 percent to 9.2 percent in 2019 – an improvement likewise seen in all Midwestern states.

Laws passed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – helped drive the percentage of uninsured Americans even lower from 2019 to 2021 in most states.

But those same studies noted continuing disparities in who is covered and found that questions about affordability remain. Here are four trends of note in Midwestern states.

Coverage has improved since 2011, but unevenly

The percentage of uninsured people fell in all Midwestern states in the 10 years since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2011, and fell further from 2019 to 2021, except in Kansas and North Dakota, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In North Dakota, the percentage actually rose from 6.9 percent in 2019 to 7.9 percent in 2021 while in Kansas, it stayed flat, at 9.2 percent.

The Census Bureau attributes variations in states’ rates over the 10-year period to factors like differences
in age of the population, economic conditions, and policy changes like the ACA’s Medicaid expansion option for states.

All Midwestern states but Kansas, South Dakota and Wisconsin had adopted this expansion before 2022. From 2011 to 2021, Kansas’ uninsured rate fell from 12.6 percent to 9.2 percent, South Dakota’s from 11.9 percent to 9.5 percent, and Wisconsin’s from 9 percent to 5.4 percent.

But expansion states’ rates dropped by more: Indiana’s fell from 14.5 percent to 7.5 percent, Minnesota’s from 8.8 percent to 4.5 percent, Michigan’s from 11.8 percent to 5 percent, and Illinois’s from 13.1 percent to 7 percent.

Additionally, the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa says two federal policy decisions stabilized uninsured rates during the pandemic:

• The Families First Coronavirus Response Act prevents states that accepted enhanced Medicaid funding for the public health emergency from reviewing Medicaid recipients’ status until after the emergency is officially rescinded.
• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opened health insurance marketplaces for most of 2021 instead of the usual annual Nov. 1 to Jan. 15 enrollment period.

Private, employer-based insurance covers most people

Whether employer-provided or purchased from an insurance company or on a public exchange, private insurance covered the majority of Midwesterners in 2021. Employer-provided health insurance provides the bulk of this coverage, ranging from a low of 57.9 percent (Kansas) to a high of 61.5 percent (Minnesota).

Among public programs, Medicaid covers more people than Medicare in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio — all states that adopted Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid covers between a fifth and a quarter of people in Michigan (23.5 percent), Ohio (21.5 percent), Iowa (20.4 percent) and Indiana (20.1 percent). Medicaid coverage rates for other Midwestern states range from 12 percent in North Dakota to 19.7 percent in Illinois.

In South Dakota, where Medicare covers 18.4 percent of residents compared to 13.7 percent under Medicaid, voters in November approved an initiated constitutional amendment adopting Medicaid expansion. The state’s Department of Social Services estimates about 52,000 newly eligible residents will enroll once expansion has been implemented.

South Dakota is also one of the Midwestern states in which direct purchase of insurance from an insurance company or an exchange is most prevalent — that option covers 18.1 percent of residents, second only to North Dakota (18.5 percent).

Direct purchase rates in Nebraska (16.8 percent) and Minnesota (16.7 percent) are also higher than the other Midwestern states, where direct purchase ranges from 15.9 percent in Kansas to 12.1 percent in Ohio.

But overall coverage rates vary by age, race

Nationwide, uninsured rates vary widely by age — partly as a function of Medicare and programs targeting younger children — and race, according to an American Community Survey brief released in November.

Medicare covers those ages 65 and older, while children under age 19 may be included in their parents’ insurance coverage, Medicaid and/or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

For example, no Midwestern state’s uninsured rate for adults ages 65 and older is even 1 percent.

At the other end of the age spectrum, for those under 19 years of age, uninsured rates in the Midwest range from 3 percent in Michigan and 3.2 percent in Illinois to 7.3 percent in North Dakota.

While those ages 19 to 26 are eligible to be covered by their parents’ policies, Midwestern states’ uninsured rates among adults ages 19 to 64 range from 7.1 percent in Michigan to 13.3 percent in South Dakota and 13.5 percent in Kansas.

The ACS brief also found a wide coverage gulf persisting between Whites and Asians on one end of the range and Hispanics and Native Americans at the other. Nationally, just 5.7 percent of Whites and 5.8 percent of Asians were uninsured in 2021 compared to 9.6 percent of Blacks, 17.7 percent of Hispanics and 18.8 percent of Native Americans.

Within the Midwest, the percentages for White uninsured range from 3.4 percent in Minnesota to 6.9 percent in Kansas; for Black uninsured, from 7.4 percent in Wisconsin to 20.3 percent in North Dakota; for Asian uninsured, from 4.2 percent in Michigan to 9.6 percent in Ohio.

The percentages for Hispanic uninsured range from 10.1 percent in Michigan to 20.1 percent in Nebraska and 20.3 percent in Kansas; and for Native Americans, from 12.5 percent in Michigan to 35 percent in South Dakota.

“Racial differences in health insurance coverage persisted across age and selected characteristics and reflect disparities in social determinants of health, such as income and poverty status as well as employment,” the brief says.

Rising costs of insurance still a major obstacle

Coverage alone doesn’t help if the insured person can’t afford treatment. Reports issued earlier this year by The Commonwealth Fund suggest health insurance costs are taking larger bites out of middle-income families’ budgets and leaving them “underinsured.”

A September study found more than two in five working adults ages 19 to 64 were underinsured, defined as someone to whom at least one situation applies:

• Out-of-pocket costs over the prior 12 months, excluding premiums, were equal to 10 percent or more of household income.
• Out-of-pocket costs over the prior 12 months, excluding premiums, were equal to 5 percent or more of household income for individuals living under 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($27,180 for an individual or $55,500 for a family of four in 2022).
• The deductible constituted 5 percent or more of household income.

A January study of state trends in employer premiums and deductibles from 2010 to 2020 found that in 2010, worker contributions to insurance premiums and deductibles made up 10 percent of median income in no Midwestern state. By 2020, they did in all but Michigan and Minnesota.

“The high cost-sharing people face in many employer, individual-market, and marketplace plans is primarily driven by the prices that providers, especially hospitals, charge to commercial insurers and employers,” the latter report says. “These prices are the highest in the world. And consumers bear the burdens.”

The post State of health coverage in the Midwest: Four takeaways from studies showing a drop in uninsured, but continued disparities and rising costs appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Post Title

Ohio: New tax credits target help for beginning and retiring farmers

Ohio has joined the list of Midwestern states that use tax incentives to help beginning farmers. For these individuals, the state is offering a tax credit to offset the costs of participating in a financial management program.

But Ohio Rep. Susan Manchester notes the recently enacted HB 95 isn’t just for individuals starting their agricultural careers; generations that came before them will benefit as well. That’s because a provision in the law offers an income tax credit to a business or individual who sells or rents farmland, livestock, buildings or equipment to them. “The legislation was designed [in part] for those farmers who are ready for their retirement, facing a big capital gains tax if they sell the farm or equipment,” says Manchester, a sponsor of the bipartisan legislation.

The program will run for five years, with the total amount of tax credits capped at $10 million. Manchester says these limits will allow for an analysis of HB 95’s effectiveness before any extension of the program. “There are so many barriers to beginning and successfully managing a farm today; this is just one step to helping preserve the legacy of Ohio’s family farms,” Manchester says. The credit is equal to 3.99 percent of the sales price or gross rental income. (The credit is 3.99 percent because that is Ohio’s highest tax rate.)

Here are other examples of state-level help for beginning farmers.

Nebraska’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credit program is the longest-standing program of its kind in the Midwest; it began in 1999 and provides a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the cash rent or 15 percent of the value of the crop-share rent for three years.
In 2007 Iowa established a 5 percent tax credit for cash rent leases and a 15 percent credit for crop-share leases. • Minnesota provides a tax credit of 5 percent of the sale price, 10 percent of the cash rent income or 15 percent of a cash-share agreement. The Minnesota program started in 2018.

Minnesota: $500,000 grant program provides down-payment assistance for beginning farmers

With this year’s passage of HF 3420, the Minnesota Legislature is appropriating a total of $500,000 in FY 2023 in down-payment assistance — through a grant program (up to $15,000 per recipient) for first-time Minnesota farm owners earning less than $250,000 per year in agricultural sales.

Only individuals (not LLCs or partnerships) that provide the majority of labor and management on the farm are eligible.

“It’s a capital-intensive business, and for people who don’t come from a family farm in particular, it can be difficult to get started,” notes Minnesota Rep. Paul Anderson, a longtime agriculture producer himself.

In exchange for the grant, an individual is expected to match it and to farm the purchased land for a minimum of five years. Nearly all Minnesota farmers are White, with an average age of 56. The down-payment program aims in part to bring more diversity to the farm sector and help younger people become farmers; that is why only smaller-scale farmers are eligible for the $15,000 grant. That amount will be significant for someone growing specialty crops such as vegetables or berries (as opposed to row-crop or livestock producers).

Kansas: Legislators adopt new sales tax exemption to aid in fencing repair, replacement

In December 2021, western Kansas experienced strong winds that toppled power lines, sparking wildfires that damaged more than 163,000 acres. Under the state’s law at the time, legislators would have to take proactive action to help farmers recover from natural disasters like this one by offering tax assistance related to the repair or replacement of fencing. 

The initial idea of Kansas Sen. Elaine Bowers and others: Amend statutory language so that this sales tax exemption applied to all future natural disasters. (Future legislative action would not be needed.)

Bowers says the reach of the measure expanded during Senate deliberations. 

Under the final agreed-upon version (signed into law as part of the broader HB 2239), all sales of tangible property and services used to build or repair any fence enclosing agricultural land is now exempt from the state sales tax. 

Iowa: For retired farmers, state offers new tax exemption on income from renting or leasing land

Iowa’s HF 2317, signed into law in March 2022, made headlines for gradually moving the state to a flat income tax rate. The measure also exempted net capital gains on the sale of employee-awarded capital stock.

For farmers, too, the new law included targeted tax relief.

“[It’s] part of efforts to make government more effective and efficient, while providing benefits to rural residents,” Iowa Sen. Ken Rozenboom says. “For the third time in recent years, we have lowered taxes, and this new legislation provides farmers with an opportunity for tax exemption in retirement.”

With HF 2317 in place, retired farmers can exempt the income they receive from renting out or leasing farmland. A person must be 55 or older and no longer actively farming. He or she also must have owned the property and been active in the farming business for at least 10 years. (Farmers operating as a partnership, LLC or corporation may not claim the exemption.)

As state Rep. Lee Hein notes, the inclusion of this statutory language address the needs of “farmers whose land serves as their retirement.”

Separate provisions in HF 2317 help other Iowa retirees, through the elimination of taxes on income from pensions and retirement accounts, for example, and the capital gains exemption. The new law also modified an existing capital gains income exemption that applies to farmers when they sell property or cattle, horses or breeding livestock. (Individuals may not claim both the capital gains exemption and the farm lease exemption.)



The post appeared first on CSG Midwest.

Illinois opening college savings accounts for every newborn — up to $50 in seed money per newborn

With the start of the new year, Illinois is launching its Children’s Savings Program, with each child born or adopted in the state eligible for up to a $50 deposit in the college-savings fund administered by the Illinois treasurer. Legislators created the program in 2019 (HB 2237) and set aside funding for it ($2.5 million) for the first time this year.

Additionally, under a bill signed into law in 2022 (SB 3991), the treasurer’s office will collect racial, ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic information on program participants. The office then has the authority to “make supplementary deposits to children in financially insecure households if sufficient funds are available.”

Nebraska has its own version of a college savings program for newborns, the Meadowlark Program, which launched in 2020 after legislative passage of LB 610 in 2019. That law also included two other provisions to encourage contributions to young people’s college savings accounts: 1) incentive payments to employers who match their employees’ contribution into a child’s “NEST” account; and 2) a matching scholarship program for low-income families. The availability of funds relies on state appropriations and private contributions. A handful of other U.S. states have these kinds of “seed deposit” programs for newborns and their families. California has perhaps the largest such program. It offers up to $100 for every newborn, plus another $500 for any first-grader from a low-income family.

The post Illinois opening college savings accounts for every newborn — up to $50 in seed money per newborn appeared first on CSG Midwest.