House, Senate Agriculture Committees release frameworks for 2024 Farm Bill Reauthorization

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Owen Hart

Associate Legislative Director - Agriculture & Rural Affairs
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Rachel Mackey

Legislative Director – Human Services & Education | Veterans & Military Services
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Joe Jackson

Legislative Assistant

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County Countdown – June 17, 2024

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Key Takeaways

After months of negotiations and gridlock, lawmakers on the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have released competing frameworks for the 2024 Farm Bill. The $1.5 trillion legislative package authorizes a suite of programs that help counties make critical investments in infrastructure, economic development, workforce training, nutrition and conservation within some of our nation's most underserved communities. To learn more about the Farm Bill and how it impacts counties, check out NACo's Primer for Counties: 2024 Farm Bill Reauthorization here.

On May 1, House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson (R-Penn.) released a summary of his proposal for the 2024 Farm Bill. This was followed by the release of the full bill text on May 17. The 942-page bill has been titled the "Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024." For more information on the bill's contents, please find a section-by-section summary and full bill text here. The House Agriculture Committee held a markup of the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 on May 24. During the markup, the Committee advanced the proposed legislation 33-21, including four Democratic votes in favor of the bill.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), responded to Chairman Thompson's Farm Bill proposal with a competing framework for the 2024 Farm Bill Reauthorization, dubbed the "Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act." For more information on the Senate proposal, please find a full summary of the bill here and a more detailed section-by-section summary here. On June 10, Senate Agriculture Committee Republicans released their own framework for the 2024 Farm Bill, intended to kickstart negotiations over a prospective bipartisan Farm Bill package with their Democratic counterparts. The minority framework can be found here.

Thanks to NACo's advocacy efforts, both proposals include key wins for county governments, including increased funding for rural development programs, certain improvements to federal nutrition programs, more robust support for new and beginning farmers, the expansion of key land management authorities to county governments and in the House version, a three-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program, or SRS. 

Lawmakers will continue to face a series of challenges that may delay progress toward a final bipartisan package, including historically slim margins in the House, ongoing disagreements on key sticking points in the commodity support, conservation and nutrition programs, as well as political challenges posed by the 2024 election cycle. Uncertainties surrounding the Farm Bill reauthorization’s path forward may require extending the 2018 Farm Bill into 2025.

 

As Congress continues negotiations over the coming months, NACo will continue to work with partners in Congress to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill that will strengthen rural America and support greater opportunities for all.

 

Breaking Down Key Provisions

Farm Safety Net

Farm safety net programs, including commodity subsidies, farm loans, disaster assistance and crop insurance, constitute a critical support network for the U.S agricultural industry and American consumers. Counties support a robust farm safety net that can also provide stronger support for small, beginning, and young farmers, who often struggle to access affordable sources of financing. 

County Wins: Both the House and the Senate frameworks include significant enhancements to farm safety net programs, including:

  • More robust crop insurance offerings for farmers and ranchers
  • Broader eligibility and more generous premium discounts on crop insurance for new and beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Critical updates to the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs, ensuring that these programs can support farmers during market fluctuations and natural disasters
  • Both bills would increase the mandatory funding level for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to $100 million annually, a $15 million increase from the 2018 Farm Bill
  • Maintaining local funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program
Conservation

Protecting our nation's most sensitive ecosystems starts with the voluntary conservation efforts of American farmers, ranchers and foresters. Conservation programs authorized in the Farm Bill provide valuable resources and expertise to support ongoing local conservation initiatives. These programs, coupled with a strong local relationship with USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), give counties the support they need to take the lead in conservation efforts.

County Wins: Both the House and Senate Farm Bill proposals incorporate the remaining $13 billion of Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding provided to Farm Bill conservation programs into the Farm Bill's baseline. This will ensure that conservation programs will receive greater funding levels in future Farm Bills. However, the House framework would remove the IRA's requirement that conservation funding be used for climate-related spending, known as "climate sideboards." The Senate framework would maintain these requirements.

The House and Senate frameworks also include the following key provisions:

  • The Senate proposal permanently authorizes programs authorized in the Farm Bill's conservation title, removing conservation programs from the need to be periodically reauthorized in future Farm Bills
  • Both the House and Senate proposals include key updates to the Conservation Reserve Program. The House proposal incentivizes the enrollment of marginal lands and encourages partnerships with state and local conservation programs. The Senate proposal increases the acreage limit on the Conservation Reserve Program from 27 million to 29 million acres
  • Both proposals include boosts to disaster assistance programs for agricultural producers
  • Both proposals reauthorize and update the Emergency Watershed Protection program
  • Both proposals expand the resources available for the Feral Swine Eradication and Control Program

Concerning provisions:

  • No increase in program set-asides for beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Continued disagreements over the path forward on climate-related provisions included in Inflation Reduction Act conservation funding may continue to obstruct negotiations
Nutrition

Both the House and Senate proposals include changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides 41.2 million low-income county residents with monthly grocery benefits and connections to Employment and Training programs. SNAP, which is funded on a mandatory basis, represents the largest share of Farm Bill spending.

County wins: The House and Senate proposals contain key priorities expressed by county governments, which are responsible for administering the SNAP program in ten states. Both frameworks would:

  • Lift the lifetime ban currently preventing individuals with felony drug convictions from qualifying for SNAP 
  • Ensure that income earned through SNAP employment and training programs does not impact program eligibility
  • Explore options for SNAP benefits to purchase hot foods 
  • Encourage SNAP participation by eligible post-secondary and secondary students
  • Simplify SNAP eligibility and application processes for elderly households
  • Expand health food incentives associated with SNAP benefits
  • Additionally, the Senate proposal contains critical language to address food insecurity among active-duty members of the military by excluding the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from SNAP income eligibility determinations. 

Concerning provisions: The House proposal contains two provisions that could undermine the ability of county governments to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable residents:

  • Requiring that future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP)—the underlying calculation informing SNAP benefit amounts—must be cost-neutral. Counties support regular TFP updates that account for the cost of food more accurately, dietary needs, purchasing patterns and regional differences in food costs, housing and medical care benefits. The imposition of cost-neutrality would significantly compromise the purchasing power of SNAP benefits and would function as a cut to the program.
  • Eliminating any threshold for SNAP payment errors, meaning states would face financial penalties for marginal mistakes in benefit issuance. Counties oppose action to further erode SNAP administrative resources amidst workforce shortages and significant caseload sizes. 
Rural Development

Programs authorized in the Farm Bill's Rural Development title represent crucial lifelines for rural counties, providing funding and technical assistance for rural economic and community development, rural water and wastewater infrastructure, and broadband deployment.

County Wins: While both the House and Senate proposals reauthorize key rural development programs. Both frameworks would:

  • Integrate the Rural e-Connectivity (ReConnect) Loan and Grant Program into the Farm Bill rural broadband program
  • Raise minimum eligibility speeds for rural broadband programs
  • Prioritize investments in rural childcare through existing USDA-Rural Development programs
  • Reauthorize key rural water and wastewater infrastructure programs
  • Increase funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) 
  • Reauthorize and strengthen key rural workforce development programs, including the Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) program
  • Reauthorize the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP)
  • Reauthorize the Biomass Crop Assistance Program
  • Reauthorize the Rural Business Investment Program

Additionally, the Senate proposal includes $50 million a year in mandatory funding for rural capacity building initiatives, using language from the Rural Partnership and Prosperity Act. Counties would be directly eligible to access this funding. This marks the first time that a House or Senate Farm Bill has included permanent funding for the Rural Development title. Other provisions included in the Senate version that address key county priorities include:

  • $200 million in mandatory funding for rural water and waste disposal grants and essential community facilities grants
  • Permanent authorization for the Rural Partners Network
  • New investments to enhance the commercial food supply chain capacity in rural areas
  • Establishment of an Interagency Task Force on Outdoor Recreation Coordination to study and align federal investments in outdoor recreation in and around federal lands
Forestry and Public Lands

Both Senate and House versions of the Farm Bill include provisions that empower counties to take an active role in the management of public lands across the United States. Counties make use of provisions in the Forestry title of the Farm Bill to mitigate wildfire risks, coordinate with federal agencies and local land management partners and restore damaged landscapes. 

County Wins: In addition, the House bill includes a 3-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools program. Language extending the Secure Rural Schools Program until 2026 was included in the House version of the Farm Bill but was not included in the Senate. 

Both the Senate and House bills include:

  • Extending full eligibility to county governments under Good Neighbor Authority, which allows counties to retain and reinvest profits from joint land management projects on federal lands into other authorized projects on non-federal lands
  • An extension of the Landscape Scale Restoration Program through 2029, providing competitive grants for large-scale forest restoration projects that span across jurisdictions
  • An authorization for Regional Foresters to appoint individuals to local Resource Advisory Committees, enhancing local cooperative resource management activities
  • Provisions in the Wood Innovation Grant Program that would prioritize proposals that include the use or retrofitting of existing sawmill facilities in counties in which the average annual unemployment rate exceeded the national average by more than 1 percent
Other Items

Additional provisions across the Farm Bill of interest to county governments are included below:

  • The House proposal requires federal agencies to study the impacts of solar installations on prime farmland and limits USDA's authority to fund projects that would convert prime farm and forestland into ground-mounted solar installations unless the project has received a resolution of support from each county and municipality in which the project is sited.
  • Both bills focus on addressing foreign acquisition of U.S. farmland. The House bill aims to enhance tracking of foreign ownership and penalize non-compliance, while also requiring the USDA to implement GAO's recommendations for improved monitoring. The Senate bill proposes banning commodity program payments on foreign-owned land and expanding reporting requirements to include long-term leasing agreements. 

The House proposal contains two provisions that would preempt existing county authorities:

  • Pesticide Regulations: prohibits counties and states from imposing or continuing any requirements related to the sale, distribution, labeling, application or use of any pesticide, eroding county authority to protect residents from harmful chemicals.
  • Agricultural Product Standards: prohibits counties and states from passing laws and regulations that provide a condition or standard on the production of livestock products other than on livestock physically raised in that county or state. This provision preempts county authority, creating a serious threat to county sovereignty. 

What's Next for the Farm Bill?

Though the House Agriculture Committee successfully advanced the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024, it is unclear when the measure will go to the House floor for consideration before the full chamber. Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow has yet to announce her plans to formally introduce and mark up her version of the 2024 Farm Bill. 

Lawmakers have a long road ahead before the Farm Bill can be passed into law and several obstacles may continue to impede progress toward agreement on a bipartisan 2024 Farm Bill, including:

  • Slim margins in the House and the Senate
  • Ongoing partisan disagreement over conservation and nutrition funding
  • The upcoming 2024 election cycle, which is projected to dampen legislative activity over the summer
  • Impending expiration of the 2018 Farm Bill on September 30, 2024.

Counties look forward to working with our partners in Congress to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill that will help strengthen rural America and support greater opportunities for all. NACo will continue to publish periodic updates as Farm Bill negotiations continue.

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