Thursday, December 12, 2013

Year-end Farm Bill Update

It appears that House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders are close to a Farm Bill deal. While we have not seen legislative language, it is our understanding that under the working agreement on the farm bill, the nutrition title would include $8-9 billion in cuts to SNAP made by taking the House level cut to the Heat and Eat program, concentrating the full impact of the cuts in the 16 states that participate. Leaders had hoped to unveil the deal this week, but a key budget analyst was snowed in in New Jersey and unable to provide the necessary Congressional Budget Office scores in time for action before the House adjourns tomorrow, Friday, Dec 13. As such, Ag Committee leaders announced their intention to move the bill in early January.

The House has introduced legislation providing a short-term farm bill extension through January. House Ag Chairman Lucas (R-OK) wanted the legislation in case it looks like Congress won't be able to wrap up the full farm bill reauthorization in early January. In the meantime, Senate leaders have stated explicitly that they will not take up an extension, hoping to maintain pressure on Congress to wrap up negotiations and vote on a final farm bill in early January. One major concern that arises by not passing a bill by December 31st is that dairy programs will revert back to 1949 farm law, which required USDA to provide price supports at a much higher level than today and which could lead to a significant spike in milk prices. However, Secretary Vilsack has assured negotiators that, provided they take action in early January, he will hold off on implementing permanent law and milk prices will not be impacted.

Agriculture Committee leaders met Tuesday and are scheduled to meet again today. While the House is not in session next week, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) are expected to come back next week to finish up negotiations with Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Cochran (R-MS) to finalize the framework. Staff would finish writing legislative language to match the framework deal before Congress returns in January. In January, the conference committee would have a public meeting to vote on the conference agreement. Some amendments may be concerned at the conference committee level to allow members who are unhappy with certain elements of the legislation to raise their concerns. The bill would then move to the House and Senate floor for final passage. 

Many thanks for all of your tremendous advocacy efforts. Together with our partners, we generated over 4,000 calls to Congress last week and Presbyterians alone sent over 2,000 emails in the last three weeks calling for a Faithful Farm Bill. To read more about PC(USA) advocacy for a comprehensive and faithful Farm Bill, visit our blog.

We will share additional legislative details as they are made available. In the meantime, members of Congress are heading home for the holidays. It's a great time for you to invite them to worship, to volunteer in your food pantries or feeding programs, and to continue to elevate the issues of hunger and ongoing need in your communities.  In a season when we are celebrating the coming a Savior to all people, the stark inequalities become startlingly apparent.  Make sure your elected officials understand the importance of protecting and strengthening nutrition programs and of completing a comprehensive, sustainable Farm Bill.