Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Action Alert: Farm Bill Moves to House

Action Alert: Farm Bill Moves to House

Last week, the Senate approved its version of the farm bill (S. 954).  The Senate farm bill is not ideal, but Congress needs to pass a farm bill this year and it is the best bill we are likely to see.  Perhaps most important for the political process, the bill passed the Senate, an action that moves us one step closer to ensuring funding and protection for valuable programs that were left unfunded when the last farm bill expired at the end of September, 2012.  This bill is vital to providing protection for low-income and vulnerable people, assistance to those affected by disaster, defense of God’s creation, and development opportunities in rural communities.

Now we move our focus to the House of Representatives.  The House farm bill, which is expected to come up for a vote as early as tomorrow, June 18, makes much deeper cuts to the programs that serve the most vulnerable than the Senate bill. For a total of $38 billion in cuts over ten years, the House would cut $20 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).  The Senate bill’s $4 billion cut to SNAP is bad enough, but the House’s $20 billion cut will mean severe hardship, cuts to benefits, and some families losing SNAP benefits altogether.  These cuts are unacceptable and the voice of the faith community will be united during House deliberation – these cuts go too far!

Write to your House members today  – tell them to pass a good farm bill this year that provides food for hungry people and supports farmers and sustainable agriculture.

What was in the Senate-passed bill?

In today’s political climate where deficit reduction is the name of the game, the Senate farm bill would cut roughly $23 billion from various farm and nutrition programs. About $4 billion will come from SNAP and roughly another $6 billion from conservation programs. The rest of the major savings will come from changes to commodity subsidies and crop insurance programs.

Many of these cuts are to programs that the PC(USA) has historically supported as essential to our shared commitment to alleviating hunger and protecting God’s creation.  However, the news isn’t all bad in this bill.

  • The bill eliminates direct payments to the major commodity producers – subsidies that the PC(USA) has long opposed because they mainly go to the largest producers and artificially distort the price of certain crops on the global market.  Much of the savings from these cuts is reinvested into other commodity supports, but it is a step in the right direction.
  • In an effort to direct farm supports to small and medium-sized farms, the bill includes historic payment limitation reform for the commodity programs, limiting payments to $50,000 per year (double for married couples) and plugging all the loopholes that currently allow mega farms to collect unlimited payments in spite of the nominal limit in statute.
  • In another effort to ensure farm supports are reaching the growers who need them, rather than mega farms, the bill lowers the overall adjusted gross income (AGI) threshold for receiving commodity subsidies to $750,000 (double for most married couples), though the new limit would be higher than current law for investors with primarily non-farm income.  By way of a successful floor amendment, the bill lowers premium subsidies by 15 percent for those with AGIs above $750,000 (double for most married couples).
  • On beginning farmer issues, the bill does very well for the Conservation Reserve – Transition Incentives Program and the Down Payment Loan Program, and medium well on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and beginning farmer issues related to farmland easements.
  • On local and regional food system and rural development issues, the bill does very well for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer provision for direct farmer-to-consumer markets, and for SNAP Incentives (double up food bucks).
  • On conservation programs, the bill unfortunately cuts nearly $6 billion over ten years, while consolidating a variety of existing programs into bigger umbrella programs.  It takes a disproportionate amount of the overall spending cut from the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), our nation’s largest working lands conservation program. On the plus side, it creates permanent funding for what was the Wetlands Reserve Program (now included as the wetlands component of a bigger, consolidated agricultural easement program), albeit at a substantially lower level than WRP has been funded at historically.  maintains the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program which allows owners of private land to preserve them for God’s creatures.

For more information visit NSAC Blog.

Call to Action

Email your Representative today!  Now is the time to ensure that the House passes a Farm Bill that provides food for hungry people and supports farmers and sustainable agriculture.