House passes CR with CCC authorization and nutrition aid
The House late Tuesday passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 11 including provisions to allow the Agriculture Department to use the Commodity Credit Corporation to make payments to farmers with no interruption and to fund the Pandemic EBT program, which makes payments to families with children who are not getting their usual free or reduced-price school meals, and to give the Agriculture Department flexibility in implementing nutrition programs.
The House voted on the CR in the evening without much debate after delaying the vote on an earlier version that did not include either the CCC provision or the nutrition provisions.
The vote was 359 to 57, with 56 Republicans voting against it and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., voting present. Fourteen members did not vote.
Rural Democrats and Republicans emphasized that the CR will allow farmers to get both their regular subsidies and the second round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments, while urban Democrats emphasized the inclusion of the nutrition aid. The CCC is a $30 billion line of credit at the Treasury Department that the Agriculture Department uses to make payments, mostly to farmers. The account needs to be replenished annually.
House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., noted that the CR included $8 billion in nutrition aid and the CCC provision but also a restriction that the Agriculture Department could not use the CCC to provide aid to oil companies, which the Trump administration had considered for companies that did not get waivers from their ethanol obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“From those who grow our food, to those who need increased access to it, the agreement reached tonight ensures that both American farmers and families will have the support they need as we continue to navigate COVID-19,” Bustos said.
“We can’t feed our families without making sure that those who keep our food supply strong — our hardworking farmers — have the assistance they deserve,” Bustos said. “I worked to make sure that this legislation not only includes critical aid for our farmers, but also increases desperately needed accountability for Commodity Credit Corporation funds. Today’s legislation stops the administration from diverting aid meant for family farmers to bail out Big Oil.”
Bustos said the key provisions in the CR include:
$8 billion for nutrition assistance for children and families.
• Critical aid for farmers through funding to replenish the CCC, in order to ensure farm aid payments will be delivered on time.
• Increased accountability for CCC funds, including protections that will prevent funds from being diverted from American farmers to oil companies.
• Funding extended for Community Health Centers and the National Health Service Corps.
• A one-year extension of the surface transportation authorization.
• Extension of the National Flood Insurance program through Sept. 30, 2021.
Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, who had joined the entire Iowa congressional delegation in urging the congressional leadership to include the CCC provision, said, “While I am still frustrated that vital aid for Iowa’s farmers was left out of this extension of government funding in the first place, I am glad that House leadership heard my concerns and reversed course on today’s continuing resolution.”
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who had introduced an amendment to cover both the CCC and Pandemic EBT provision, but had it ruled out of order by the House Rules committee, said, “Had Congressional Republican leadership not stepped in, USDA would have been forced to shut down critical farm bill programs supported by wide, bipartisan margins in both the House and the Senate. This would have hurt millions and helped nobody.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said, “A short-term funding solution is never ideal, but this continuing resolution provides for many of central Washington’s priorities. I’m glad to see Democrat leadership listened to the outcries from both sides of the aisle and included critical agriculture provisions like mandatory programs for conservation, child nutrition, risk management, and wildfire recovery to help our farmers and ranchers continue their essential work.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation, said in a news release: “We applaud [House Agriculture Committee] Chairman [Collin] Peterson [D-Minn.] and Ranking Member Conaway for their leadership, and House lawmakers for putting aside their differences to address the hardships being felt by America’s farmers and ranchers. For years, funding the CCC has been a bipartisan commitment. While we were disappointed it recently became a political flashpoint, we are pleased lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize that these funds help to sustain conservation programs and stock America’s pantry.”
Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, said in an email: “The last thing farmers and rural Americans need right now, on top of the pandemic and everything else, is a government shutdown. We are relieved that the House has come to an agreement on a stopgap funding bill that would prevent such a shutdown, and we hope that the Senate will follow their lead. In particular, we urge them to adopt the House’s provisions that would help hungry families and schoolchildren access food, offer congressional oversight of farm assistance spending, and prevent oil corporations from taking advantage of Commodity Credit Corporation funds.”
REACTIONS TO THE NUTRITION PROVISIONS
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., noted that she had reached agreement with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on the nutrition provisions.
“We have reached an agreement with Republicans on the CR to add nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for hungry schoolchildren and families. We also increase accountability in the Commodity Credit Corporation, preventing funds for farmers from being misused for a Big Oil bailout.
“To help the millions of families struggling to keep food on the table during the pandemic, Democrats have renewed the vital, expiring lifeline of Pandemic EBT for a full year and enabled our fellow Americans in the territories to receive this critical nutrition assistance. Democrats secured urgently needed assistance for schoolchildren to receive meals despite the coronavirus’ disruption of their usual schedules, whether virtual or in-person, and expanded Pandemic EBT access for young children in child care. We also extended key flexibility for states to lower administrative requirements on SNAP for families in the middle of this crisis.”
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said, “This CR reflects bipartisan agreement and includes nearly $8 billion in desperately needed nutrition assistance for struggling Americans. This victory for our Democratic priorities is a prelude to the work we will do in negotiating full-year appropriations bills that invest for the children and for the people.”
House Education & Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., who has jurisdiction over child nutrition programs, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered several parallel crises for communities and industries across this country, but few are as urgent as the current child hunger crisis. Despite the two substantial COVID-19 relief packages that Congress passed in the early weeks of the pandemic, as many as 17 million children went hungry this summer. Allowing these emergency measures to expire would be disastrous for struggling families.
“I am pleased that Democrats were able to negotiate the extension and expansion of key child nutrition measures in the continuing resolution. The compromise struck tonight [Tuesday] will extend and expand the Pandemic-EBT program, which prevented at least 2.7 million children from going hungry in the first week after it was implemented. It also extends the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to continue offering school districts greater flexibility through the 2020-2021 school year.
House Agriculture Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said she was “particularly proud the measure includes $8 billion in nutrition assistance, including several key provisions I championed to ensure children and families do not go hungry as we address the public health crisis.
“With around 17 million children not getting enough to eat this summer, these child nutrition provisions will go a long way towards alleviating the child hunger crisis we currently face,” Fudge said. “I am also pleased to see the bill includes my Emergency SNAP Flexibilities Extension Act to give states additional flexibility to process surges in SNAP applications. Eliminating administrative barriers is a common-sense way to help families put food on the table during this time of unprecedented struggling.”
But Fudge said she is “deeply troubled by the administration’s mismanagement of the Commodity Credit Corporation. After robbing Peter to pay Paul, the USDA called on Congress to replenish the very taxpayer dollars it squandered. Fortunately, Democrats were successful in securing restrictions for this funding to prevent any further waste, fraud and abuse, but further congressional oversight is still needed.”
Fudge added, “This compromise will help to keep the government open, but it is no substitute for a comprehensive coronavirus relief package. I call on Senate Republicans to pass this bill and then come back to the negotiating table to address the full scale of this crisis and meet the needs of families, businesses and communities who need help most.”
The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and the companies that make school food, noted that the CR included language allowing USDA to extend all Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) waivers through the end of the 2020-21 school year. “The waiver extensions will permit schools to continue offering meals to all children at no charge, minimizing the challenges of meal service and ensuring hungry students have access to healthy school meals during the pandemic,” SNA said.
“With these waiver extensions, no family will have to worry about their child going without a healthy school meal, whether they’re learning in school or at home,” said SNA President Reggie Ross. “Schools and families will not be unnecessarily burdened with paperwork, and nutrition staff can focus on safely preparing and serving meals through the pandemic. It is critical that the Senate and USDA act quickly to pass and implement the waiver extensions so school meal programs can effectively plan for the entire school year assured that all hungry students can be fed.”
National WIC Association President and CEO Douglas Greenaway said, “This evening’s agreement reflects a sustained consensus on Capitol Hill that continued flexibilities for the federal nutrition programs are a necessary response to stymie the significant consequences of this unprecedented public health crisis. We express our sincere thanks to the steadfast leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi for continuing to prioritize the needs of children and families. We’d also like to thank our legislative champions — including Chairman Bobby Scott, Rep. Kim Schrier [D-Wash.] and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler [R-Wash.] – for lifting up the need for continued WIC flexibilities into 2021.”
The Food Research & Action Center said it was pleased with the nutrition provisions. FRAC noted that the CR “makes a number of improvements to P-EBT including: providing benefits to children who have a reduction in the number of days or hours they are physically in school or child care; allowing Puerto Rico and other territories to implement P-EBT; and providing funding to cover states’ administrative costs.”
FRAC also noted the CR extends child nutrition waivers and allows state Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program agencies, without obtaining prior USDA approval, to opt for many of the waivers that were made available earlier in the COVID-19 crisis. These include waivers on deadlines for SNAP interviews, participant reporting, and eligibility recertifications.
It is now up to the Senate to consider the CR.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said, “Democrats have heard our call, and the calls from farm country, to not ignore rural America when funding the government. This bipartisan deal is a step in the right direction to allow agriculture producers across America to continue feeding the country and the world, especially at a time when markets are unpredictable and prices are low.”
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., said, “The CCC provides much-needed support for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, which is why we worked so hard to ensure it is part of this funding legislation. This agreement ensures this regular CCC reimbursement continues and enables USDA to carry out important farm bill programs for our farmers and ranchers.”
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who had raised concerns about the Trump administration’s aid to farmers and proposed aid to oil companies, said, “I’ve always said that we need to help both our farmers and our families. This agreement will take a critical step to address the hunger crisis in our country and ensure millions of children can get the healthy food they need to learn and thrive, not just for a few months, but for the coming year.
“Additionally, we secured greater accountability for farmers and taxpayers by stopping the Trump administration’s misguided plan to give hundreds of millions of dollars of agriculture funds to oil companies. I remain concerned about persistent unfairness in ad hoc USDA payments and I will continue to provide strong oversight to ensure that every dollar is distributed to the farmers who need it the most during these challenging times.” ❖
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The Agriculture Department has established a new data report, the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement Seasonal Perishable Products Weekly Update, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service announced on Jan. 11.