19th Congressional District -- U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, said local agriculture and the problems of small farmers were the topics he heard about the most during town hall meetings he conducted in the 19th Congressional District this week.
Delgado conducted a conference call with reporters Friday to discuss the issues residents of his district raised during question and answer sessions at stops in Delaware and Montgomery counties.
He said he was told by dairy farmers in Delaware County that the number of small family-run dairy farms has shrunk from 400 to 100 in recent years, and from 100 in Sullivan County to only 12. He said the federal government needs to do more to help those farmers.
"What I noted in the town hall, it’s about localized infrastructure, whether that’s spurring economic investments through tax incentives or breaks, or whether it’s robust public works infrastructure. What we need is to regionalize or localize our markets," he said.
Delgado said in Delaware County he met Don Coager, the owner of Don's Dairy Supply, who gave him a tour of his facility where he manufactures on-site milk processing technology. Delgado said he believes the federal government should be helping more small dairy farmers purchase on-site processing equipment.
"This is how I think we can begin to localize and empower our local farmers to regain control of their products, in the absence of these types of on-site regional-based marketing processing bottling plants, what ends up happening is the monopolized conglomerates can come swoop in and in essence take away the regionalized reality," he said.
Delgado, a freshman congressional representative, said he believes past farm bills, like the giant $867 billion bill passed in December, have had too much of a focus on helping large "megafarms" or corporate owned farms. He said he wants to support legislation aimed at funding for building up infrastructure to help smaller farms access markets.
Delgado also said he intends to focus on providing a public option for health insurance markets.
A public health insurance option was debated as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, but was never included in the final bill.
Delgado, a member of the House of Representatives' Small Business Committee, said he'd like to allow small businesses to opt into Medicare, which he thinks would provide them with quality health insurance at lower prices than currently available through the private insurance markets.
He said he believes opening up Medicare, a program now available to the elderly, is the best way to begin to provide "universal affordable healthcare for everybody."
While in Canajoharie, Delgado was asked by Chris Novak, a member of the Palatine Town Board, where he stands on whether produce should have a "country of origin label," an issue known by the acronym C.O.O.L.
Delgado on Friday said he hasn't reviewed specific legislation that would implement the C.O.O.L concept.
"I'm certainly open to the idea of it. It seems to align with my principles of giving farmers a chance to compete in a global marketplace," he said.
Another concept he said he is open to supporting is hemp farming in his district, which he thinks has a lot of potential.
Delgado also talked about several national and international issues. He said he supports a House bill introduced Friday that would block President Donald Trump's use of a declared national emergency on the country's southern border to redirect federal funds to build a wall on the border.
"I think it's a violation of separation of powers; Congress controls the power of the purse," Delgado said.
Regarding Trump's planned trip to meet North Korean leader Kim Jung Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, next week, Delgado said he thinks talking about peace between North Korea and South Korea is good, but he doesn't understand Trump's recent statements downplaying the importance of denuclearization for North Korea.
"It's unclear to me what the president's objectives are," he said.