House Agriculture Committee passes Farm Bill; House floor action remains uncertain - Catholic Rural Life

House Agriculture Committee passes Farm Bill; House floor action remains uncertain

Catholic Rural Life • February 8, 2013

House Agriculture Committee passes Farm Bill; House floor action remains uncertain


On July 12, the House Committee on Agriculture passed the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (FARRM), the Committee’s version of the Farm Bill. In these past weeks, we have worked together to remind Congress that the moral measure of our nation’s agriculture policies is how they serve “the least of these.”
We greatly appreciate the hard work and time of our members and network partners who advocated for a Farm Bill that protects hungry people, preserves creation, supports family farmers and helps rural communities thrive.
So, what’s in the House version of the Farm Bill?
Reviewing the bill in light of our common principles and priorities, the House Agriciulture Committee version improves on some programs but fails to fully provide essential programs that would help hungry people in need and better serve rural America in a time of economic hardship.
Here we recount some of the provisions contained in the Committee’s proposal. It is important to note that these provisions can be corrected through amendments when House leadership brings the Farm Bill to debate and a vote in the full House.
• Domestic Hunger and Nutrition:
In contrast to the bill passed by the Senate, the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee found more than $30 billion in budgetary savings over a ten year period, with the largest portion of those savings coming from a $16 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). The bill achieves these savings by changing the rules about who is eligible for SNAP, changes that would cut benefits to 500,000 households by $90 per month; eliminate food assistance to 2 to 3 million individuals; and deny free school meals to nearly 300,000 children.
In addition, proposed cuts in administrative fees paid to states would likely lead to cuts in personnel, slower processing of applications and fewer people receiving benefits. An attempt to restore full funding to SNAP failed to pass the committee, as did an attempt to replace that portion of the bill with the Senate’s version.
• Rural Development and Conservation:
The House bill funds rural development programs at about 88 percent below the 2008 farm bill, with substantial cuts in funding for programs that support water and sewer projects in rural areas.
Conservation programs were also subject to larger cuts than in the Senate bill, with funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, which encourages farmers to adopt conservation practices on working lands, cut by $3 billion dollars and the number of acres allowed to enroll in the program, which already has a substantial waiting list, cut by nearly one-third.
Funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and for Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers were cut in half in the House bill.
• Commodity Subsidies and Crop Insurance:
Like the Senate’s bill, the House bill shifts some of the farm price support programs from a system based on market price to a system based on loss through expanded use of federal crop insurance. However, unlike the Senate’s version, the House bill does not require that farmers receiving federal crop insurance subsidies comply with basic soil and water conservation practices. In addition, the House Committee bill would actually raise the amount of commodity payments any one farm can receive, vastly increasing the total based on current law from $130,000 to $250,000.
The Senate bill set a still high, but more reasonable cap of $100,000.  Also unlike the Senate bill, the House Committee bill includes no income test for maximum taxpayer subsidies for crop and revenue insurance.  Whereas the Senate bill includes a very modest 15 percentage point reduction in the subsidy rate for participants with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross annual income, the House Committee did not even consider or debate any limits on government subsidies for the crop and revenue insurance programs — programs projected to cost taxpayers nearly $10 billion a year over the next decade.
For more in-depth details about the Farm Bill, see the Assessment by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
(NCRLC is an active member of this coalition and collaborates with them on many common issues.)
What’s next in the House?
It is unclear when the full House will consider the Farm Bill. House Leadership has not even agreed to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The majority of the provisions of the Farm Bill are set to expire on September 30, and if Congress is unable to agree to reauthorize the Farm Bill by that time, they will have to come up with some form of extension of current programs.
We can only continue to ask you to raise your voices and join with us to remind Congress that our nation’s agriculture priorities must help the “least of these” by promoting a Farm Bill that feeds hungry, poor and vulnerable people and promotes stewardship of creation. Please see the sample message below.
We thank you for your advocacy and dedication to family farms and rural America.
The 2012 Farm Bill is among the most important pieces of legislation Congress will consider this year. The Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have completed their jobs and delivered comprehensive bills. Recognizing that time is short before the Sept. 30 expiration of the current farm bill, we urge you to schedule time for floor consideration of the bill as quickly as possible.
While representing a wide range of interests, we are united in our view that the bill should receive floor time and be finalized this year, on schedule.  We reject calls for delay and believe that extension of the current bill does not adequately address the needs of farmers, ranchers, foresters, those in need of food assistance at home and abroad, conservation, rural communities, or food and agricultural research.
We ask you to act now to ensure that a new, comprehensive farm bill is passed this year.


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