Farm Bill passes House Committee; What’s next?

      Posted On: July 19, 2012

Early in the morning of July 12, the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the farm bill (FARRM) on a bipartisan 35 -11 vote, moving one step closer to the passage of a farm bill before the current law expires on September 30. The full Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act (S. 3240) on June 21. Once signed into law, the farm bill will authorize spending for USDA programs for 2013 through 2017.

There are significant differences to the two bills, the most contentious of which is the $12 billion difference in cuts to the SNAP program (food stamps). The Senate bill would reduce program spending by $4 billion over the next ten years, while the House bill seeks $16.5 billion in savings over the period.

Farmers market programs fare well in both bills, with the exception of a change in language to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) in the House version, which has caused concerns and risen questions about the fate of the WIC FMNP program among some farmers market supporters.

Both bills expand the current Farmers Market Promotion Program to include funding for food hubs (renaming it the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program) and double the annual program budget to $20 million per year. Minor language differences between the two bills can be worked out in conference.

Both bills include provisions to support the development of local fruit and vegetable incentive programs for SNAP families, although they are authorized as parts of different USDA programs in each bill and have different funding levels. The Senate bill provides a total of $100 million over five years, and the House provides $25 million, adding funds to the Community Food Project program for that purpose. Since both bills include mandatory funding for the effort, this too is likely to fare well in conference negotiations.

It will also be easier for SNAP participants to use their benefits

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to purchase CSA shares in future, and USDA is encouraged to conduct pilot programs testing better mobile technologies to connect nutrition program participants with markets, farm stands, and other non-traditional healthy food retailers.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant program will receive a bump up in funding to $70 million per year (up from $55 million) going forward, and the House bill includes a provision that requires USDA to conduct a study on increasing specialty crop production by small, women, minority, and socially disadvantaged farmers.

The House bill removes the emphasis on serving low-income elderly in the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, renaming it simply the Farmers Market Nutrition Program with an additional mandate to serve low-income families at nutritional risk as well as seniors – but with no additional funding to meet this greatly expanded demand. Further, the bill does not provide authorization for the appropriation of a specific amount of additional funds in the coming years.

Unfortunately, grassroots efforts by FMC members, NAFMNP, and even the Governor of New York were unsuccessful in increasing funding for the new Farmers Market Nutrition Program which will remain at the level of the Senior-only program, $20.6 million/year.

FMC is concerned that this legislative change, with no additional funding, eliminates the statutory justification for the separately authorized and funded Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC, essentially transferring responsibility for funding the program from the Appropriations Committee to the Agriculture Committee. Moving forward, it will be important to protect the WIC FMNP from additional funding cuts in annual appropriations, and continue to communicate the far-reaching impacts of both FMNP programs, which served more than 1.9 million WIC participants in 2011, and more than 863,000 low-income seniors.

If the farm bill process were to proceed as usual this year, the next step would be a vote by the full House of Representatives. However, this has not been placed on the July schedule, and Congress leaves for the month-long August recess on August 3. With current farm programs facing a looming September 30 expiration date, it is possible that the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will meet and hash out a compromise bill that will be returned to both chambers for a final vote. This would by-pass a preliminary House vote that promises to be bruising, with conservatives pushing to increase cuts and liberals fighting to restore the cuts to SNAP. The alternative would be the passage of an extension of the current bill with a full farm bill passed in the short lame duck session after the election, or beginning the process again with a new congress in 2013.

Stay tuned; FMC will continue to provide information and issue action alerts as the process continues.