The Trump campaign – and most notably Donald Trump himself – are trying to distance themselves from the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, a blueprint for a new GOP administration backed by dozens of conservative groups that includes controversial recommendations to overhaul federal farm and nutrition programs.

On his Truth Social network over the long holiday weekend, Trump said he knows “nothing about Project 2025.”

“I have no idea who is behind it,” Trump said. The three-man “Project 2025 Team” listed on the project’s website, however, are all former Trump administration political appointees, including a former special assistant to Trump himself. in 

Project 2025 seeks to “take back our government,” says one of those three, Paul Dans, in a “Note on Project 2025” included in Heritage’s latest “Mandate for Leadership.” 

The project’s website says the Trump administration “relied heavily on the ‘Mandate’ for policy guidance, embracing nearly two-thirds of Heritage’s proposals within just one year in office.”

The latest edition of the “Mandate” says of Project 2025, “Our goal is to assemble an army of aligned, vetted, trained, and prepared conservatives to go to work on Day One to deconstruct the Administrative State.”

Take note: The chapter on USDA recommends repealing the sugar program and, “ideally,” scrapping the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, or at least prohibiting farmers from receiving crop insurance payments and payments under either of those subsidy programs in the same year. 

Also, apropos of the current farm bill debate, Heritage’s “Mandate” recommends moving food and nutrition programs from USDA to the Department of Health and Human Services.

On the Biden beat: A House Ag Democrat considered vulnerable in this fall’s elections says Joe Biden needs to step aside. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., said, “I do not believe that the president can effectively campaign and win against Donald Trump.”

Craig’s defection brings to five the number of Democratic House members who have called on Biden to step aside, according to the Washington Post. Biden told ABC in an interview Friday that “if the Lord Almighty came down and said, ‘Joe, get out of the race,’ I’d get out of the race. The Lord Almighty’s not coming down.” 

States react to SNAP error rate penalties

A handful of states are looking at how to proceed after receiving hefty fines for their 2023 SNAP error rates. 

Six states and the District of Columbia have all been assessed financial penalties after two years of high SNAP error rates. According to USDA, the penalties are: 

  • Pennsylvania - $39.5 million
  • Maryland - $16.6 million
  • Oregon - $15.7 million
  • Alaska - $12 million
  • Hawaii - $10.9 million
  • Washington, D.C. - $4.4 million, and  
  • Delaware - $3.9 million 

Pennsylvania attributed its high rate to pandemic flexibilities in the program coupled with a new federal policy in 2022 that changed how error rates are calculated. The state Department of Health Services has taken steps to address the increased error rate, and has seen monthly improvements, the department said in an email. It said the financial penalty won’t impact SNAP participants.

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“Because the increase in [Pennsylvania]’s error rate was largely driven by the change to federal rules and pandemic flexibilities that helped keep families fed through the emergency, we expect to appeal this current penalty,” the department said in an email. 

The District of Columbia Council expressed concern at a recent meeting over how to pay the fine, particularly during a tight budget season, and whether the program is seeing enough improvement, according to coverage in The Washington Post. 

USDA allows states with fines to reinvest half the penalty to improve its own SNAP system. Laura Zeilinger, director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services, which administers SNAP, told council members it would select this option and work with USDA on a path forward, but it was not immediately clear where the funds to cover the remaining half of the penalty would come from. 

Farm debt projected to grow to more than $500 billion in 2024, ERS says

Farm sector debt is expected to grow to more than half a trillion dollars in 2024, according to a new report from USDA’s Economic Research Service.

Twenty-three percent of U.S. farms held debt in 2022, the report said. 

But, but, but: Farm assets have also grown, which the report says bettered “the solvency of large, midsize and small farms.” Debt-to-asset ratio “improved for small, midsize and large farm businesses in 2022 compared with 2021.”

ERS continued: “Younger farm operators (those aged up to 44 years) tend to have a higher debt-to-asset ratio.” Nevertheless, ERS said in 2022, that ratio was 15%, which is considered low, for that group of farmers.

Rantizo becomes most recent company granted ‘drone swarming’ exemption

Rantizo is joining the list of drone companies with exemptions allowing them to use up to three drones over 55 pounds without a visual observer, as well as at night.

FAA regulations currently require two people — a pilot and a spotter — to monitor the flights for each drone weighing more than 55 pounds, though the agency granted Rantizo a new exemption allowing it to use more drones with fewer people present. The agency granted a similar request to Texas-based drone manufacturer Hylio earlier this year.

“This is a giant step in the right direction for drone applicators,” Rantizo's chief pilot, Kevin McDonald, said in a release. “The FAA is really working hard to make more options available for drone operators and this approval shows that drones will continue to unlock new options for precision application technology.”

Iowa man gets six months for pork fraud scheme

An Iowa man has been sentenced to six months in federal prison after admitting to his participation in a scheme to defraud pork producers by changing swine weights at a livestock dealer’s weighing station.

Robert Harry Bickerstaff, 42, admitted to manipulating scales as the regional manager of Lynch Livestock to make the weights of swine appear lower, as well as creating fraudulent “sort sheets” with false numbers and weights. He pled guilty to one count of wire fraud.

“Bickerstaff held a degree in Agribusiness and was experienced in the pork industry,” the Justice Department said in a release. “Bickerstaff was a pork producer himself.  In February 2022, Bickerstaff won a ‘Hog Wild’ award from a statewide pork producers’ association for his role in promoting pork in Lyon County.”

Four other Lynch Livestock employees have been sentenced previously for participation in the scheme, DOJ said. One other employee also got six months’ prison time and was fined $3,000. Two others were fined, and one received a year of probation.

Rebekah Alvey and Noah Wicks contributed to today’s Daybreak