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H.R. 2 - Agriculture & Nutrition Act (House Farm Bill)

by Countable | 6.28.18

Given that the Senate amended H.R. 2 with its own version of the Farm Bill, we've transferred the summary of the House version of the bill below for you.


What is it?

This bill — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act aka the “Farm Bill” — would reauthorize numerous U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) programs through the 2023 crop year, reform the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), in addition to making it easier for farmers and ranchers to access credit, crop insurance, and international markets. Detailed summaries of the 644 page bill’s various sections can be found below.

Commodities

This section would aim to maintain and strengthen the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs and allow participating farmers to make a new election between them. The programs provide farmers with protection against adverse changes in market conditions.

PLC would be reformed by allowing reference prices to adjust when markets improve and by allowing farmers affected by long-term exceptional drought during the previous election period to update their yields.

ARC would be reformed by using actual yields collected by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, by separately calculating revenues for dryland and irrigated land, and by using the physical county of the farm when determining ARC benefits. These are aimed at ensuring accuracy in ARC assistance and mitigate county-to-county disparities.

Dairy policy would be maintained and strengthened through several provisions. The Margin Protection Program would be renamed the Dairy Risk Management (DRM) program. The first 5 million pounds of milk production on a dairy would be made eligible for higher coverage levels at lower premiums. Milk production not covered under DRM would be fully eligible for a comparable crop insurance policy. Feed costs would be studied to ensure accuracy in the DRM, and class I milk calculations would be adjusted to help dairy farmers better manage risk in the futures market.

Other provisions of this section include:

  • The USDA’s marketing loan program, which helps farmers store their production so they can market their crops throughout the year rather than selling when commodity prices are low at harvest-time, would be reauthorized for the 2019 through 2023 crop years.
  • The USDA’s no taxpayer cost U.S. sugar policy would be maintained through the 2023 crop year.
  • Livestock Disaster Programs would be maintained and expanded to cover the death or sale loss as a result of vector-borne diseases that’s not controllable by vaccination or other acceptable management practices.

Nutrition

This section would maintain and reform nutrition assistance programs. It would require that work capable adults (ages 18-59) work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Exempted groups would include seniors, the disabled, those caring for children under six, and those who are pregnant. No individual would lose SNAP benefits unless they decline to work or accept free training to learn a skill.

SNAP categorical eligibility rules would be modified so that people may qualify based on their eligibility and receipt of benefits from other low-income assistance programs including SSI, General Assistance, or cash or other TANF benefits, such as childcare, transportation assistance or counseling. Requiring categorical eligibility instead of nominal services like using hotlines or receiving brochures would help increase assistance for those truly in need of help.

Automatic availability of the Standard Utility Allowance for heating and cooling costs would be eliminated, meaning that households would need to demonstrate actual utility costs to qualify for increased SNAP benefits. The elderly would be exempt from the documentation requirement.

This section would also incentivize increased purchases of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, including through retailer-funded incentive pilot projects. It’d increase funding to $60 million per year for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, with $20 million to be used for the Farm-to-Food Bank program providing inexpensive food for low-income families.

Conservation

This section of the bill would increase funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to $3 billion per year over the life of the farm bill and incorporate the best features of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) into the most successful and popular working lands initiative. Other programs that’d be funded and reauthorized under this section include:

  • $500 million annually for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program;
  • $250 million annually for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;
  • $100 million annually for the Small Watershed Rehabilitation while simplifying application processes and adding program flexibility;
  • $100 million toward a pilot program to address destructive and invasive feral swine.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) would be maintained and strengthened. CRP acreage would be increased to 29 million acres over the life of the farm bill. Rental rates would be capped and acreage would be targeted toward the nation’s most fragile lands.

Trade

This section would bring the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD), the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops Program (TASC), and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP) under the single umbrella of the International Market Development Program. Total annual funding would be set at $255 million, of which no less than $200 million would go to MAP, no less than $34.5 million to FMD, $10 million to EMP, and $9 million to TASC.

In-kind food aid would be retained as the foundation of U.S. food aid while oversight, monitoring, and program evaluation for food aid programs would be strengthened. Labeling requirements would appropriately convey the generosity of the American people. Among the programs maintained by the section are: Food for Peace, Food for Progress, McGovern-Dole, Farmer-to-Farmer, Local and Regional Procurement, the Cochran Fellowship Program, the Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust.

Credit

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts Pilot Program would be maintained with matching funds for savings accounts, and reserves a portion of ownership and operating loans for beginning farmers and ranchers. Military and related experience would be allowed to count toward 3-years of experience required prior to an application for an ownership loan.

The Conservation Loan and Loan Guarantee program would be maintained to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation measures on their land. Loan limits for individual farmers and ranchers would be updated for the first time in 16 years, enabling producers to access the credit they need to produce their crops.

Rural Development

To enhance rural development this section of the bill would:

  • Give the Secretary of Agriculture to prioritize assistance to direct medical services where they are most urgently needed to combat opioid addiction.
  • Provide incentives for the provision of healthcare coverage through agricultural healthcare plans to meet farm, ranch, and rural needs for individuals unable to access affordable healthcare coverage.
  • Maintain and strengthen initiatives to provide for rural water and waste services, essential community facilities, rural business and economic development, rural electrification, cooperative development, telemedicine and distance learning, broadband, regional authorities, and other critical infrastructure.
  • Maintain and improve the energy initiatives that enhance energy independent and efficiency while providing economic opportunities in rural America.

Research

This section would provide full funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and maintain set-asides for vital citrus research and extension. It’d increase funding for the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative to provide resources for combating fraudulent imports of organic products coming into the U.S. The farm bill would promote research on the development of mechanization and automation of labor-intensive tasks on farms and in packing facilities.

A grant program would be established for each 1890 land grant university to award scholarships to individuals pursuing a career in food and agricultural sciences.

The plan of work and time & effort reporting processes for the land-grant formula funds would be streamlined to ensure that university research and extension personnel are able to spend their time and effort on actual projects instead of unnecessary, federally-mandated reports.

Forestry

This section would reauthorize the Landscape Scale Restoration Program directing the U.S. Forest Service and state forestry agencies to take on forest health, wildfire and drinking water protection. It’d support conservation of at-risk species identified by State Wildlife/Forest Action plans and authorize Indian tribes to conduct forest management activities on federal lands where they have a tribal interest.

Additionally, the bill would:

  • Support capital investment through the Community Wood and Wood Innovation Program and direct the USDA to promote research and development.
  • Expand on the use of categorical exclusions (CEs) and expedite the Forest Service’s ability to quickly remove dead trees after wildfires.
  • Provide funding for reforestation and rehabilitation, including planting trees, surveying for natural regeneration, clearing vegetation around seedlings, and other activities.

Horticulture

This section would provide $85 million per year for Specialty Crop Block Grants and clarify performance evaluation language to ensure that the federal bureaucracy doesn’t unnecessarily interfere with state-level project implementation. It would also provide regulatory relief by clarifying the role of state lead agencies in promulgating pesticide regulations and streamlining the pesticide review & approval process when considering implications to endangered species.

Crop Insurance

This section would require further research and development into risk management products that work effectively for farmers and ranchers affected by hurricanes. It’d also encourage private sector innovation in the development and maintenance of new policies to meet unique risks.

Additionally, this section would look to ensure farmers and ranchers who suffer natural disasters aren’t unnecessarily penalized in future years through effective double deductibles due to insurable yields being set artificially low.

Miscellaneous

  • $450 million would be provided to enhance USDA’s ability to identify, diagnose, and respond to a potential animal disease outbreak. A new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program would be designed to protect the health of the nation’s livestock sector.
  • A new U.S.-only vaccine bank would be established with priority for stockpiling Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine.
  • The USDA would be required to include veterinary teams, including those based at colleges, in training programs to respond to endemic diseases.
  • $50 million would be provided for outreach and assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and military veterans in agriculture, and the Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement to improve the viability and profitability of small, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

More Information

In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX) introduced this bill to reauthorize and reform the USDA’s food and agriculture programs:

“The farm bill keeps faith with our nation’s farmers and ranchers through the current agriculture recession by providing certainty and helping producers manage the enormous risks that are inherent in agriculture. The farm bill also remains faithful to the American taxpayer and consumer. Under the farm bill, consumers will continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world, and taxpayers will reap the more than $112 billion in budget savings projected under current law.
Ensuring an affordable food supply is important to every citizen, but it is absolutely critical to the most vulnerable among us who struggle every week to put food on the table. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is reauthorized under the farm bill, is essential to helping many Americans feed themselves and their families. The farm bill also keeps faith with these family by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families.”

House Democrats expressed opposition to this bill in its committee report:

“The Agriculture and Nutrition Act, H.R. 2, threatens millions of rural and urban Americans, particularly those who rely on our farm and food programs most. The Majority’s ideology driven reforms to nutrition assistance programs under the guise of a commitment to human dignity will ultimately leave nearly two million current beneficiaries without money to buy groceries. The exclusion of improvement to farm programs to farm programs leaves agricultural producers vulnerable to market access and price volatility without an effective farm safety net. Most alarming however, is the manner in which H.R. 2 was written and negotiated. This farm bill has destabilized the historic common ground on which the Committee withstood over a century of sea change in favor of leadership driven politics and perception based policies.”

This legislation passed the House Agriculture Committee on a party-line 26-20 vote.


Media:

Summary by Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Slavica / iStock)

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