FARM BILL 1.12: The Shortest Distance from here to a 2012 Food and Farm Bill may not be through this Congress
by Ed Yowell
August 3, 2012
The present 2008 Food and Farm Bill expires at the end of September, 2012… next month!
The full Senate approved its version of the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012, on Thursday June 21, 2012. The Senate bill reduces the deficit by $23 billion. Historically, it reforms commodity programs…most significantly, ending direct payments to farmers. And, largely because of amendments passed during a two day debate on the Senate floor, the Senate bill supports and reforms a number of important programs, including rural development and beginning farmer, soil and water conservation, crop insurance (subsidy limitations and crop insurance for organic and diversified farmers), commodity payments, and farm to school (pilot innovations).
The Act includes a SNAP (Food Stamp) budget cut of more than $4 billion focused on the curtailment of existing SNAP policy related to LIHEAP (Low Income Heat Energy Assistance Program), known as SNAP “Heat and Eat” policy. Heat and Eat enables jurisdictions to coordinate SNAP budget calculations with LIHEAP participation to the benefit of SNAP recipients. Presently, 14 states and the District of Columbia coordinate Heat and Eat policies, thereby helping 500,000 SNAP beneficiaries, particularly the elderly and disabled.
The House and the Food and Farm Bill
As for the House, the good news is, the House Agriculture Committee approved its draft of the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2012, on July 12, 2012. The bad news is what’s in the bill they passed and the worse news is the inability of the full House to do anything about it because of the intransigence of House leadership to move the bill to the House floor for debate and amendment.
FARRM cuts the deficit by $35 billion and includes a $16.1 billion SNAP budget cut, including the Senate’s Heat and Eat cut and adding the elimination of SNAP Categorical Eligibility (“Cat El”). Cat El policies afford jurisdictions the ability to coordinate SNAP eligibility with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) low income assistance program participation. The elimination of Cat El will affect two to three million SNAP beneficiaries, particularly the working poor and children.
In a number of other very significant areas, FARRM misses by a country mile. Like the Senate bill, FARRM ends direct payments to producers; however, it also creates new commodity and crop insurance subsidies. The House Committee bill falls short on reform, raising the amount of commodity payments any one farm can receive, increasing the total from $130,000 to $250,000, as opposed to the Senate $100,000 cap; leaves loopholes that allow the nation’s largest farm operations to collect unlimited payments; and includes no limits on crop insurance subsidies. The House Committee bill would:
- to the benefit of large packers and the detriment of family farmers and ranchers, un-do the important reforms of the 2008 Food and Farm Bill intended to restore competition and fairness in livestock and poultry production;
- reduce acreage included in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and cut funding significantly and would increase the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) grant limit, benefitting our greatest agricultural polluters, industrial CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations);
- cut nearly in half the annual funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and eliminate the socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers set aside; and
- repeal the Organic Certification Cost Share program.
Summer Vacation and the Food and Farm Bill
While the House Ag Committee labored to pass its version of the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, it did so with no encouragement from the House Republican leadership that it would go to the House floor, the leadership hoping to avoid a contentious floor debate pitting Tea Party and conservative Republicans against moderate Republicans and Democrats on SNAP cuts and substantial reforms to commodity and crop insurance programs. And so, the House is in recess with no further action on FARRM.
When Congress returns in September there are at least two scenarios including, passing FARRM in the House and reconciling it with the Senate bill for adoption by both Houses prior to the expiry of the 2008 Food and Farm Bill at the end of September, difficult given the amount of time and the differences on the issues, or extending the 2008 Food and Farm Bill for several months. Working under the extension scenario, the two Ag Committees, House and Senate, might negotiate a compromise with the hope of both houses passing the 2012 Food and Farm Bill during the lame duck session of Congress in November and December, also difficult, but perhaps more likely. Failing these scenarios, the 2012 Food and Farm Bill would become the 2013 Food and Farm Bill, the first one passed after the expiration of its predecessor.
This article relies heavily on the writings of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). For a comprehensive review of the evolution to date of the 2012 Food and Farm Bill, visit the NSAC 2012 Farm Bill Archive, http://sustainableagriculture.net/category/2012-farm-bill/.
Check out FSNYC's ful series of Farm Bill articles here.