House and Senate ag committees approve 2013 farm bill

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WASHINGTON — The House and Senate ag committees both approved their respective versions of the farm bill this week, the House by a vote of 36 to 10, and the Senate approval was 15-5.

Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, in teleconference May 16 with reporters, said the bill supports 16 million jobs that are directly connected to agriculture.

“There is not a bigger jobs bill that will come before the Congress than what we call the farm bill,” she said.

But the majority of the bill traditionally goes toward food stamps and nutrition assistance programming — a major point of difference between the House version.

The Senate bill would cut about $4 billion over five years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the House seeks to cut more than $20 billion.

“I absolutely reject the level of cuts and the way this is done in the House,” she said.

Stabenow said 47.5 million Americans get federal food assistance, which she mostly blamed on a weak economy.

“This is about providing help when it’s needed,” she said. “As the economy fell apart a number of years ago, many families who have paid taxes and worked hard all their life, have found themselves in a situation where they had to …. ask for help.”

Savings and reforms

House Ag Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the bill his committee approved included “significant savings and reforms.”

In a released statement, he said “no other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government. I appreciate the efforts of my colleagues and the bipartisan nature in which this legislation was written and approved. I look forward to debating the bill on the House floor this summer.”

Lucas estimates the House bill saves nearly $40 billion by eliminating outdated government programs and reforming others.

Both versions of the bill go a long way in reducing and combining programs, especially for conservation.

The House version repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs, and consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 — about the same as the Senate bill.

Both parties predict a lot of progress this summer, and a strong possibility for a new five-year bill before fall.

“Needless to say this process has gone on far too long and it is past time to get this bill done,” said Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Ag Committee.

“With today’s (May 15) action, I’m optimistic the farm bill will continue through regular order and be brought to the House floor in June. If we can stay on track, I think we should be able to conference with the Senate in July and have a new five-year farm bill in place before the August recess.”

Farm Bureau is optimistic

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said he is optimistic about the progress.

“This provides a great reason for optimism we will have a new long-term farm bill this year,” he said in a released statement. “That belief is further supported by the fact that the bills are more striking in their similarities than in their differences. Both bills provide a solid start for a farm bill that serves America’s farm and ranch families.”

Both bills include a strong shift in risk management, away from government funding and into more crop insurance.

“The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offer through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years,” Stallman said.

House bill highlights:

• Saves nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion.

• Repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs.

• Eliminates direct payments, which farmers received regardless of market conditions.

• Streamlines and reforms commodity policy while also giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk.

• Includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion.

• Consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13, improving program delivery to producers and saving more than $6 billion.

• Builds on previous investments to fruit and vegetable production, farmers markets, and local food systems.

• Includes several regulatory relief measures to help mitigate burdens farmers, ranchers, and rural communities face.

Senate bill highlights:

Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy. Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person.

Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the “management loophole,” through which people who were not actually farming—in many cases not even setting foot on the farm—were designated as farm “managers” so they could receive farm payments

Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers will need for generations to come

Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather; includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters; reforms farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration).

Consolidates and Streamlies Programs. By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities.  The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction.

For example: The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs—while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands

Improves program accountability. At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program.

• Increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive; ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income; cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking; increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits.

• Continuing growth in America’s diverse agricultural economy. The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:

• Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.

• Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations.

• Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground.

• Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses.

• Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs.

• Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power.

• Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations.

• Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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