National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Farm Bill moves to conference with NACo priorities

By Arthur Scott

Meeting for the first time on Oct. 30, the Farm Bill Conference Committee discussed key NACo priorities addressed by both the House and Senate farm bills (H.R. 2642 and S. 954).

Overall, NACo supports the Senate version of the farm bill (S.954) and its Rural Development Title because it more adequately addresses county need and priorities.  Since 1996, the Rural Development title has averaged $413 million in mandatory funding per farm bill.

While the bills from both chambers are well below this average, the House bill authorizes $50 million in mandatory funding compared to $227 million authorized by the Senate bill.

The Senate farm bill also authorizes a broad range of programs that are critical to counties.  Specifically, within the Rural Development title, NACo supports the Senate bill’s mandatory funding levels for the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program ($15 million), the Water/Wastewater backlog ($150 million) and Value Added Producer Grant Program ($62.5 million). 

“Funding for issues like the water-wastewater backlog and programs like the Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program and Value Added Producer Grant Program are not only vital to the success and sustainability of North Carolina’s rural counties, but to counties throughout the United States,” Person County, N.C. Commissioner Ray Jeffers said.  Jeffers chairs NACo’s Rural Action Caucus.

NACo also supports the Senate’s approach to streamlining the authorizing language for rural development programs, which is designed to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in administering programs and improving accessibility for rural constituents.  It would allow USDA to focus resources on strategic community and economic development plans on a multijurisdictional basis.

Within the House bill, NACo supports Sec. 10013, Use and Discharges of Authorized Pesticides. This provision overturns EPA’s general pesticides permit program, which was finalized in 2011.  EPA’s general pesticides permit program has had a significant effect on county programs, particularly mosquito abatement and noxious weed control efforts along roadways and other wet areas. 

This is especially important for counties that have large land masses and must spray or monitor large areas within the county. Some counties have reported suspending, delaying or reducing their county-run pesticide programs due to additional costs. No funding was attached to help state and local governments comply with the EPA regulations. 

In the House bill, NACo opposes a provision that would eliminate categorical eligibility for families that receive non-cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.  This provision, included in the 2008 law, is used in 43 states and reduces administrative costs because TANF families do not have to file a separate application.

NACo supports the high-performance incentive bonuses from the 2008 Farm Bill that have contributed to reduced error rates, — also slated for removal in the House bill.  It also supports the provision in the 1996 welfare reform law that allows states with high unemployment to obtain waivers from the strict and cumbersome three-month benefit cut-off for single, childless adults. Forty-five states received these waivers during the recession.

NACo’s interest in the food stamp program is driven, in part, by member counties in several states that operate the SNAP program and contribute to its administrative costs. Eliminating these provisions would make it harder and costlier for them to administer the program.

Also in an effort to avoid additional costs for counties, NACo supports Sec. 12323 — Silvicultural Activities — in the House bill, which preserves forest roads as nonpoint sources under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Whether a forest road is considered a point or nonpoint source is relevant to county governments.

County-owned roads run through federal, state and private lands where logging activities occur.

Since 1976, the EPA has maintained that forest roads are nonpoint sources best regulated through state-adopted Best Management Practices (BMPs). If forest roads are treated as storm water point sources, rather than nonpoint sources, local governments would face an unnecessary and expensive regulatory burden.

House and Senate leadership and farm bill conferees continue to face major hurdles to completing a farm bill reauthorization measure. Polarization within Congress and veto threats from the White House over funding levels in the nutrition title have only complicated matters and must be addressed within the negotiations. 

As conferees continue to work towards a final measure, counties are encouraged to contact their members of Congress, especially if they have been designated as a conferee  and urge them to support county priorities. 

Farm Bill Conferees

The Farm Bill Conference Committee consists of 17 House Republicans, 12 House Democrats, seven Senate Democrats and five Senate Republicans.  The full conference committee includes: 

Senate Members
Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
Max Baucus, D-Mont.
Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Thad Cochran R-Miss.
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
John Boozman, R-Ark.
John Hoeven, R-N.D.

House Members
Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
Steve King, R-Iowa
Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas
Mike Rogers, R-Ala.
Michael Conaway, R-Texas
Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.
Austin Scott, R-Ga.
Rick Crawford, R-Ark.
Martha Roby, R-Ala.
Kristi Noem, R-S.D.
Jeff Denham, R-Calif.
Rodney Davis, R-Ill.
Steve Southerland, R-Fla.
Ed Royce, R-Calif.
Tom Marino, R-Pa.
Dave Camp, R-Mich.
Sam Johnson, R-Texas
Collin Peterson, D-Minn.
Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.
Jim Costa, D-Calif.
Tim Walz, D-Minn.
Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.
Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
Suzan DelBene, D-Wash.
Gloria Negrete McLeod, D-Calif. 
Filemon Vela, D-Texas.
Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio
Eliot Engel, D-N.Y
Sandy Levin, D-Mich.