Terrific Update from the Community Food Security Coalition

June 8, 2012

Congress Moves Forward with the Farm Bill

Yesterday, the Senate formally voted to begin debate on the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240) bringing us one step closer to completing a Farm Bill before the current bill expires on September 30th. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) spoke on the floor explaining that the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 3240) – known as the Farm Bill – is a bipartisan effort to provide a farm and food safety net for all Americans. Senator Stabenow also emphasized the Farm Bill’s importance as a job creator as “16 million jobs depend on agriculture nationwide.” The White House endorsed the bill today and called for swift Senate action.

While cutting total Farm Bill spending by more than $23 billion, the Senate bill increases funding for a number of CFSC Farm Bill priorities that improve access to healthy, affordable food in low-income communities and build the infrastructure for equitable regional food systems. See our most recent Farm Bill update for a more detailed description.

On the floor, Committee members Gillibrand (D-NY), Baucus (D-MT), and Klobuchar (D-MN) all spoke about their Farm Bill priorities and the importance of preserving both the farm and nutrition safety net for America’s families.

Many amendments to the ARFJA have already been introduced. Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) has offered an amendment restoring the $4.49 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “I am incredibly disappointed and deeply troubled,” Gillibrand remarked. “As a mother and lawmaker, watching a child go hungry is something that I will not stand for.” The SNAP funding would be paid for by a cut to the amount the federal government pays to insurance companies to provide crop insurance to farmers.

Gillibrand’s amendment will also provide an additional $500 million over 10 years to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). This program provides fresh produce snacks to schoolchildren. The bill also grants authority to USDA to make bonus purchases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has submitted an amendment that would eliminate the fresh-only requirement in the FFVP by expanding this program to include frozen, dried, or canned fruits and vegetables.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced an amendment, which would allow states to use 15% of the value of their annual TEFAP commodity allocation to purchase local food.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is currently finalizing the language for an amendment that restores funding to crucial rural development and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs, including:

  • Value-Added Producer Grants
  • Rural Microentrepeneur Assistance Program
  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
  • Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program (Section 2501).

Senator Wyden (D-OR) plans to introduce an amendment establishing a pilot program in 5 states that would allow schools and school food authorities participating in USDA Foods to directly purchase local foods for food service programs. The pilot program would allow participating states to use up to 35% of their USDA Foods allotment to purchase local foods.

There will be several amendments on crop insurance, reflecting its new importance as the principal farm program with the elimination of direct and counter cyclical payments. Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (D-OK) introduced one that reduces the federal premium support for farmers with Adjusted Gross Income of more than $750,000. Senators Shaheen (D-NH), Toomey (R-PA) and Johanss (R-NE) have amendments that either restrict farmer premium subsidies or increase crop insurance purchaser transparency. Senator Cardin (D-MD) has an amendment that attaches conservation compliance rules to the purchase of crop insurance and Senator Merkley (D-OR) has one to support insurance for organic producers.

Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Conrad (D-ND) have an amendment to increase competition and improve market fairness in the livestock industry.

Several harmful amendments have also been offered. Both Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have proposed amendments that would turn the SNAP program into block grants. These amendments allow states to create their own plans to administer the program and include requirements for determining eligibility and fraud prevention.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has introduced several amendments that would restrict eligibility of SNAP applicants by limiting categorical eligibility and further reduce states ability to operate “Heat and Eat” policies. Sessions has offered another amendment to the SNAP program that would repeal state bonus payments for improving SNAP participation rates and payment accuracy.

Debate on the bill is expected to continue for at least a week.

House Farm Bill Process
CFSC expects the House Agriculture Committee to markup its version of the Farm Bill by the end of June. Chairman Lucas’s (R-OK) “Mark” may be released by the end of next week and is expected to include total cuts of about $33 billion, with as much as $10-$15 billion coming from the SNAP program. The House bill is expected to continue some kind of counter cyclical payment program to protect rice and peanut farmers from price drops. Southern producers feel current crop insurance products do not adequately serve these crops.

The House bill is expected to renew the authorization for small programs that do not have “baseline” funding for the 2012 bill, leaving open the possibility that funds could be added either in a conference committee or through annual appropriations.

Chairman Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (DFL-MN) have repeatedly said that they would like the House bill to have bipartisan support and that will be necessary to convince House leadership to make floor time for the bill.

CFSC staff continue to advocate for member priorities during House deliberations and will be sending action alerts at crucial moments in the process.

After the House and Senate both pass bills, a joint conference committee will negotiate a compromise bill. Ideally, both chambers would pass this bill before the current legislation expires. If not, Congress could pass a short-term extension of the current legislation with the final bill approved as part of the lame-duck session. Alternately, the Senate bill could be attached to a larger bill likely to pass the House, either before September 30th or after the election.

Click here to view CFSC’s 2012 Farm Bill Platform.

FY 2013 Appropriations
Yesterday, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its Agriculture Appropriations bill. The FY2013 Agriculture Appropriations bill provides$19.4 billion in discretionary funding – a cut of $365 million below last year’s level, and $1.7 billion below the President’s budget request. General details for allocations include:

WIC: $6.9 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, which is $303.5 million above last year’s level but $119 million below the President’s request.
Child Nutrition: $19.7 billion in mandatory funding – $1.5 billion below FY2012 levels and $38 million below the President’s budget request.
SNAP: $80 billion in required mandatory spending – $408 million below last year’s level and $2 billion below the President’s request.
Conservation Programs: $16 million below last year’s level.
Rural Development Programs: $180 million below last year’s level.

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) for WIC was funded at $16.2 million – $300,000 less than FY 12 levels. The Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program was funded at $10 million dollars – a 30% cut from last years appropriations.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its USDA 2013 appropriations bill in late April. Funds were not appropriated for many programs whose authority expires at the end of the current farm bill on September 30, 2012, which is also the last day of the federal FY 2012.

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