Home News Local News Torres Small appears before Senate Ag committee

Torres Small appears before Senate Ag committee

Daily Record File Photo Xochitl Torres Small says her concerns if appointed Undersecretary of Agriculture would include markets for agricultural products and working for affordable housing and internet access in rural communities. She is shown in this photo during a 2018 meeting with Roswell business leaders.

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Former New Mexico U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small appeared Thursday before a key senate panel considering her nomination for a top post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Torres Small, a Democrat who represented New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District from 2019 to 2021, was tapped by President Joe Biden to be Undersecretary of Agriculture for Rural Development in June. She introduced herself and fielded questions by members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

If confirmed by the Senate, Torres Small will be tasked with leading the USDA’s programs to assist agriculture production, economies and communities in rural America.

Adan Serna, deputy communications director for Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-NM, a member of the committee, said the panel will need to vote on whether to send Torres Small’s nomination to the full Senate for a vote, but that no date for such a vote has been scheduled yet.

During the hearing, Torres Small received praise from Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

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Lujan said in a statement that during her time in Congress Torres Small won respect for her efforts to tackle issues facing rural America.

He explained that these included her work to keep a hospital open in rural New Mexico, serving on a rural broadband task force, working to expand trade opportunities for agriculture producers and drafting legislation to to address issues facing agriculture economies and food supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Rep. Torres Small has a proven track record of fighting for rural America, and the president’s nomination will allow the entire country to benefit from her leadership and expertise,” Lujan said.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., top ranking member on the committee, said that aside from her time in Congress, Torres Small brings “a wide range of experience to the table” that includes a record as an attorney specializing in water and natural resources law, as well as working as a field representative for former Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM.

In her opening statement, Torres Small, emphasized her roots in southern New Mexico as the granddaughter of Mexican migrant farm workers who picked cotton.

“I grew up hearing stories about the opportunities my grandparents seized through hard work and vision,” she said.

Torres Small noted that the New Mexico 2nd Congressional District, which she represented, is the fifth largest congressional district. She described it as a diverse, heavily rural area that includes ranchers along the southern border, land grant communities and Indian tribes.

She added that throughout her time in office, she regularly heard from constituents who worried about what opportunities their children will have in rural communities in the future, and about the need to support innovation in those towns.

“If I get to do this job, I can’t wait to learn about and love every nook and cranny of rural America, the way I love New Mexico,” she said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, chairwoman of the committee, asked Torres Small about what she sees as some of the biggest opportunities for rural America moving forward.

Torres Small responded that she heard a great deal about the challenges rural America faces related to markets for agriculture products, changes in manufacturing and climate change. But, she said, she also saw how those same communities are constantly looking for new markets and uses for their products, such as biofuels, while building upon some of the advantages those individual rural economies have.

“That is what I love about rural development,” she said.

Many of the questions Torres Small was asked related to the USDA’s programs and efforts to expand access to broadband internet.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the lack of internet access in some areas. Torres Small told the committee of one woman who had to sit outside in the parking lot of her children’s school each day so they could have access to the internet.

The agency, she said, can help bring internet access to underserved communities, given its mission serving rural communities and its presence in those communities. She added that the agency also has established relationships with utilities, residents and local governments in those areas that can help deliver better internet access to those areas.

During the question-and-answer period, Torres Small also was asked about the shortage of affordable housing stock in rural areas.

She explained that, as a congresswoman, housing was often a concern she was approached about in rural counties. She noted that multiple generations from the same families often live in one household.

If confirmed, Torres Small said, she will focus on ways to keep people from being evicted and forming private partnerships on the ground to identify and increase access to affordable housing.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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