Finally some progress: Farm bill passes House, now headed to the Senate
By Eric Brown
The Fence Post
The House of Representatives passed the farm bill by a vote of 251-166 Wednesday morning, according to a news release from the office of Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the chairperson of the House Agriculture Committee.
The bill voted on was the same that had been passed by the Farm Bill Conference Committee on Monday.
The quick farm bill action this past week comes as a relief to those in the agriculture industry and others. The 2008 farm bill expired on Sept. 30, 2012, and lawmakers had long been unable to agree on the details of a new one, and, instead passed short-term extensions.
The new farm bill — officially titled the Agricultural Act of 2014 — will now go the Senate for a vote.
A spokesperson from the office of Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — a member of the Senate Ag Committee — said the Senate was expecting to vote on the bill this week.
The bill includes the most significant reduction to farm policy spending in history by improving agricultural programs, according to the news release from Lucas.
The new farm bill:
• Repeals Direct Payments and limits producers to risk management tools that offer protection when they suffer significant losses.
• Reduces limits on payments, tightens eligibility rules and means tests are streamlined to make farm programs more accountable.
• Strengthens crop insurance, a successful public/private partnership that ensures farmers invest in their own risk management.
• Provides historic reforms to dairy policy by repealing outdated and ineffective dairy programs. Offers producers a new, voluntary, margin protection program without imposing government-mandated supply controls.
• Supports small businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital.
Food Stamp Reforms
The Agricultural Act of 2014 makes the first reforms to the food stamp program since the welfare reforms of 1996 while maintaining food assistance.
The new farm bill:
• Closes the “heat-and-eat” loophole that artificially increases benefit levels when states provide nominal LIHEAP assistance.
• Establishes a 10-state pilot to empower states to engage able-bodied adults in mandatory work programs.
• Prohibits the USDA from engaging in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recruitment activities, and advertising SNAP on TV, radio, billboards and through foreign governments.
• Ensures illegal immigrants, lottery winners, traditional college students and the deceased do not receive benefits.
• Ensures SNAP recipients are not receiving benefits in multiple states.
• Prevents abuses, such as water dumping to exchange bottles for cash.
• Demands outcomes from existing employment and training programs.
• Prohibits states from manipulating SNAP benefit levels by eliminating medical marijuana as an allowable medical expense.
• Allows states to pursue retailer fraud through a pilot investigation program and crack down on trafficking through data mining, terminal ID, and other measures.
• Increases assistance for food banks.
Additional Reforms and Regulatory Relief
The Agricultural Act of 2014 also includes multiple regulatory relief provisions benefitting agricultural and forestry industries.
The new farm bill:
• Consolidates 23 duplicative and overlapping conservation programs into 13.
• Provides one year of full funding for the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which provides funding for vital services in communities containing federal lands.
• Provides certainty to the forest products industry by clarifying that forest roads and related silvicultural activities should not be treated as a point source under the Clean Water Act.
• Creates a permanent subcommittee within the Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board to conduct peer review of EPA actions that would negatively impact agriculture.
• Enhances coordination between USDA, EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) regarding the conflict between laws governing pesticide use and the Endangered Species Act.
• Enhances coordination between USDA and the U.S. FWS regarding actions taken to manage the lesser prairie chicken.
• Eliminates duplicative reporting requirements for seed importers; requires improved economic analysis of FDA regulations. ❖