House Republicans have released the proposed 2018 Farm Bill. The bill follows months of meetings with interested parties, including a country farm tour by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (you can read was Perdue wants in the next farm bill here), and already some dicey and divisive negotiations.
If anyone remembers back to the
2012 2013 2014 Farm Bill, it took a tremendous effort to pass it among such partisan divide. The debates, the negotiations, and the votes seemed to keep coming. In the end, it felt a little surreal when President Obama finally signed it into law.
Partisan divide, of course, is hotter than ever these days.
The biggest fight for the 2018 Farm Bill will have very little to do with agriculture. SNAP is the nutrition assistance program that provides food stamps to those who qualify. It comprises over 80% of the Farm Bill spending, despite the name of the legislation. The proposed changes to SNAP require beneficiaries to either work or enroll in a training program for at least 20 hours per week. House Republicans see this provision as part of a larger reform of entitlement programs.
While the Farm Bill has historically been a bipartisan effort because of its combination of agriculture and nutrition assistance policies, the politics behind it are always up in the air. This time around, the bill was crafted by House Republicans. More fiscal conservatives want to slash a large portion of the spending across the board – both agriculture policies and SNAP. Democrats want to eliminate the changes to SNAP and have threatened to oppose the bill, including walking out of negotiations. Unfortunately, that leaves farmers stuck in the middle. While many would like to see the SNAP and agriculture portions of the Farm Bill separated, such a move threatens both programs.
Aside from SNAP, there are other proposed changes that directly impact agriculture. While I don’t have time to read through the 641 page document (sorry not sorry), Politico’s Agriculture team has done it for us. Here are the top 5 proposed changes according to them:
– Dairy safety net changes: In addition to allowing dairy farmers under the Margin Protection Program to insure higher margins (the difference between the prices of milk and feed) for lower premiums on their first 5 million pounds of milk, the House bill would let producers participate in both MPP and the Livestock Gross Margin program – as long as the same milk production isn’t covered. LGM differs from MPP in that it can be purchased on a shorter-term basis and is highly customizable, making it more complex.
–Rural broadband gets cash: Appropriators could allocate $582 million each year for rural broadband loan and grant programs, which could lead to about a $1 billion investment in such projects.
– Conservation boost: Acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program – which pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of production – would be increased from 24 million acres to 29 million. Payment rates will be reduced to allow expansion of acres.
– Definition of a family farm: First cousins, nieces and nephews would be considered a family member for purposes of determining who is eligible for commodity subsidies, which are capped at $125,000 for each person who is actively engaged in the operation of a farm. Under current law, family members are defined as a sibling, spouse, grandparents and grandchildren. The committee said this change would prevent a death in the family from breaking a lineal relationship, which can disqualify living family members from a separate payment limit.
– Online SNAP redemption: The last farm bill called for pilot programs to test the logistics for permitting SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy food online. The bill seeks to advance that effort by continuing the pilots with “an expectation of nationwide implementation directly after pilot completion.”
I think all of those changes are positive and probably won’t cause too many problems as the bill makes its way through the legislative process.
By the way, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan believes that the proposed version of the Farm Bill can be passed this spring. Ryan announced earlier this month that he will be retiring from Congress in January. Passing the Farm Bill in the next couple months seems optimistic to say the least. But even if it happens, remember: even if the House passes the bill, getting it through the Senate could be much more difficult.
2018 Farm Bill watchers should probably hunker down for the long haul.