Congress has spent weeks trying to meld the House and Senate versions of the next farm bill into one agreeable piece of legislation.
Left in the balance is the current farm bill, which will expire Sept. 30 without an extension.
While major programs like crop insurance or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program won’t be affected, the lapse in million of dollars of funding will affect smaller grant and loan programs concentrated on conservation, minority farmers and soon-to-be farmers. Even conservative groups want stop-gap funding to make sure those who really need it have it.
“We do see a problem with that and our members do as well,” said Juli Obudzinski, the deputy policy director with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
House and Senate agriculture committee members, including Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, made it clear Wednesday that there’s no chance a farm bill is passed by the deadline, though they did say it could be finalized after the Nov. 6 midterm elections. It would have to be finalized before the end of December, or else more programs would be affected.
Several programs, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, which incentivizes farmers to conserve land, may have mandatory funding, Obudzinski said, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t have the authority to implement those programs unless a farm bill is in place.
Grants are usually awarded in advance for many programs, such as one for beginning farmers and ranchers, but Obudzinski said that if the House or Senate switch party hands after the midterms, she is concerned that funding will continue to languish.
“If we go back to the situation that we had in 2012 where we had not only a three-month delay in passing a farm bill, but we actually had an entire year-long extension, what that meant is that these programs essentially, they shut down for over a year,” Obudzinkski said, noting that the effects are still being felt by people like those running beginning farmer education programs. “There are long-established programs and long-established organizations that had to lay off staff, that had to quit programming that they had offered for decades.”
Conservative political group Americans For Prosperity has encouraged lawmakers to work on a new farm bill that’ll end “corporate welfare.”
One of the main sticking points between the two versions of the farm bill has been SNAP, specifically more stringent work requirements that the House wants to impose, but the Senate would not. AFP said it isn’t on board with a total lapse of funding while those differences are worked out.
“There are many reforms that have been proposed by taxpayer champions in Congress that should be taken up and could be taken up,” AFP Senior Policy Fellow Alison Acosta Winters said. “But if Congress can’t institute any of them, they should then pass a one-year extension of the current farm bill rather than letting it expire, and they should use that time of the next year to focus on making much-needed policy changes.”
Some lawmakers are also critiquing Congress’ inability to pass a farm bill, like Illinois Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos.
“I am extremely disappointed that House Republicans refused to agree to a bipartisan compromise between Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats and House Democrats,” she said in a news release Friday.
Meanwhile, House Republicans said they’re working the hardest to pass the bill.
“Just know that, the House of Representative guys that are fighting this fight are in it to get this thing done because their recognition of just how tough times are right now in production agriculture,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said in a statement.
The “big four” farm bill negotiators — Roberts, Conaway, House Ag ranking Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Senate Ag ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan — said they’ll try to finish negotiations and have a new farm bill implemented by next year.
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