Senate Bill Much Better for NACo Priorities in Rural Development, Energy and Nutrition
The obstacles preventing a reauthorization of the Farm Bill are quickly clearing as the House and Senate Agriculture Committees passed Farm Bill packages with bipartisan support on May 14 and May 15, respectively. The Farm Bill will move to the Senate floor next week. The biggest shift in the status of the Farm Bill is the promise by House leadership to give the bill floor time by this summer. If the House and the Senate stick to this schedule, there will be enough time for the two chambers to negotiate a compromise and pass a final bill by September 30, when the current Farm bill extension expires.
The House measure, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM) of 2013, (H.R. 1947), passed the Agriculture Committee by a vote of 36-10 on May 14 and includes $940 billion in funding over 10 years. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, (S. 954), by a vote of 15-5 on May 15, which includes $955 billion over that same time period. During the markups this week, NACo successfully supported and opposed several amendments. In the Senate, NACo was the lead champion behind the adoption of Brown Amendment 1, which passed by a unanimous voice vote. The amendment will give USDA Rural Development the flexibility to prioritize 20 percent of funding to projects that are a part of multijurisdictional economic development strategies. This will help ensure that USDA focuses on the priorities identified by counties and their partners in their county and multi-county economic development strategies. NACo successfully opposed attempts to repeal Country-of-Origin Labeling in both the Senate (Johanns Amendment 1) and House (Austin Scott Amendment 20). Similar efforts are expected on the House and Senate floor.
Another key NACo win was the successful inclusion of McIntyre Amendment 41 in the final House bill. The amendment makes technical assistance an eligible expense under USDA’s community facilities program. NACo successfully lobbied for the tweaking of the amendment language to ensure that local governments will be eligible to receive and provide technical assistance under the program. In addition, the NACo supported Healthy Food Financing Initiative (Fudge Amendment 29), which authorizes $125 million in appropriations for USDA to incentivize construction of grocery stores in food deserts, was approved by a vote of 21-19 in the House. Unfortunately, NACo’s priority effort to restore $50 million in mandatory funding for backlog of Water and Wastewater projects (McIntyre Amendment 39) was defeated by a vote of 23-22 during the House markup. The effort to provide $15 million in mandatory funding for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance program and change eligibility to include local governments (McIntyre Amendment 40) was also defeated in the House, by a vote of 25-20.
The larger fight in the amendment process in both bodies was over the size of the cuts to nutrition programs and the type of risk management system for producers. After lengthy and heated debates, all major efforts to amend the committee leadership’s proposals for nutrition and risk management were ultimately unsuccessful.
Senate Proposal Better Supports NACo’s Farm Bill Priorities
The Farm Bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee would reduce overall spending over the next 10 years by more than $39.7 billion, while the Senate bill cuts overall spending by $23 billion. Both of these Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected figures include about $6 billion in cuts enacted by sequestration. The main funding difference between the two bills is that the House bill achieves the majority of its savings by cutting about $20.5 billion from the Nutrition Title, while the Senate bill cuts only cuts $4 billion from the Nutrition Title. NACo opposes cuts to nutrition programs and will work to minimize cuts in any potential conference. The most worrisome nutrition cut in the House bill for counties is the elimination of the categorical eligibility option, which represents $11.6 billion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reductions. This provision allows states to align SNAP eligibility and assets to the same rules they use for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Block Grant (TANF), which makes it easier to operate the program and cuts administrative costs. The federal government pays 100 percent of the SNAP benefits, but only 50 percent of the administrative costs. Counties in 11 states administer SNAP and TANF.
NACo priorities in the Rural Development Title and Energy Title fare much better in the Senate Farm Bill and NACo will work to support these funding levels and policy changes in any potential conference. The Senate bill includes $115 million in mandatory funding for the Rural Development Title. This includes $50 million for the Water and Wastewater Backlog, $50 million for the Value Added Producer Grant Program and $15 million for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance program. In comparison, the House bill reduces Rural Development authorizations by $1.5 billion over five years, a 50 percent reduction, and reduces mandatory funding by $100 million with only $50 million in mandatory funding for the Value Added Producer Grant Program. The contrast is even starker between the two Energy Titles, with the Senate bill’s inclusion of $800 million in mandatory funding and the House providing no mandatory funding. The Energy Title received $1 billion in mandatory funding in the 2008 Farm Bill, which makes up nearly all of its annual funding. Therefore, the House bill threatens the elimination of these NACo supported programs. The NACo supported Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program fares better in the House bill, with $100 million in mandatory funding compared to the $85 million provided in the Senate bill.
The Senate bill includes more NACo supported policy changes to rural development programs that make authorizing language clearer, simpler and more effective for rural counties. The House and Senate both simplify application forms and add a technical assistance component to the Community Facilities Program. However, only the Senate bill requires USDA to focus resources on strategic community and economic development plans on a multijurisdictional basis.
Both the House and Senate bills eliminate previous commodity programs, such as direct payments for producers, and replace them with risk management options. The House bill cuts Commodity and Crop Insurance programs by $13.8 billion over 10 years, while the Senate bill cuts these programs by $16 billion. The Senate bill creates the Agricultural Risk Coverage Program, which would make payments to farmers for shallow losses that are not covered by crop insurance, and the Adverse Market Payments program, which would make payments to farmers when prices fall below certain targeted levels. This new target price option was not included in the last Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill and is now included due to its importance to Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and other members from the South. In the House, the Commodity Title retains the same optional coverage plan as last year, with a choice for producers between Price Loss Coverage (PLC) to address deep losses and Revenue Loss Coverage (RLC) based on county-wide losses. Both PLC and RLC apply to planted acres up to total base acres on a farm.
The House cuts conservation programs by $6.4 billion, while the Senate cuts these programs by $6.9 billion. The House consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13. The Senate takes a similar approach by consolidating the 23 current programs into four fundamental program functions: Working Lands, Conservation Reserve Program, Easements and Regional Partnerships.
Detailed summaries of each bill are available by clicking on the following links: House and Senate.
Contact: Erik Johnston firstname.lastname@example.org 202.942.4230