Senate Farm Bill Protects SNAP and Advances Historic Equity Program - June 12, 2018

QUICK UPDATE: Last week, the US Senate released its draft of the Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, with a number of important distinctions from the version defeated in the House last month. All Final amendments to the Bill are expected to be submitted by the end of today, and mark up will begin on Wednesday Watch the mark up proceeding here.

We will respond to this swift-moving process with actions alerts so please continue to follow notices on the member list, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Did the Senate Create a Bi-Partisan Bill that Advances Equity?
Over the past several months, Rural Coalition, its members and allies have been working together and with the Senate Agriculture committee to ensure that the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill protects nutrition programs for the most vulnerable members of our society, and advances rather than reverses the hard-won, long-term gains for equity in agriculture, conservation, and credit programs.

RC’s press release coauthored today with National Family Farm Coalition commends Senators Roberts and Stabenow for “a farm bill package that, unlike its counterpart in the House of Representatives, takes a strong bipartisan stance on ensuring food access for all communities, by retaining funding and authority for the crucial Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.” The Bill also increases support for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program and related initiative to strengthen local food systems.

As the Senate Agriculture Committee proceeds to its mark-up and vote Wednesday to send its version of the 2018 Farm Bill to the Senate Floor.

We urge members of the committee to support and vote for the bill, which is the most viable option as a base bill for the 2018 Farm Bill. In addition to protecting and fully funding SNAP, this bill, if passed advances aspects of the legislative packages endorsed by Rural Coalition and more than 100 organizations in the recent Equity sign-on letter.

The current Senate Farm Bill makes several important equity improvements in these vital areas:

1) The historic Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program is placed in a shared section of the bill with the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program with permanent authorization and no expiration. The Senate bill provides mandatory (rather than discretionary) funding of $50 Million to be split equally between these two separately operated programs. It also improves these programs by providing authority for multi-year grants, and creating a new peer review requirement to improve the grant review process, and a requirement for annual public reports. The new Local Agricultural Market Program links several current programs, including the Rural Value Added program, providing permanent authority and funding. Organic agriculture programs also receive improved support.

2) The Senate bill is significant in that it also removes industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. It instead places industrial hemp under USDA to be regulated as a commodity, and allows both tribes and states to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries. Farmers who meet any requirements established at the tribal or state level would therefore no longer face legal penalties or lose USDA benefits if they engage in production of this new high-value crop. Research funding is expanded and a crop insurance program for industrial hemp is authorized.

In a tight budget climate, overall conservation funding is also protected and access to conservation programs for historically underserved producers is prioritized. However, funding cuts in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Easement Program are of concern.

We will continue to work to assure the 2018 farm bill reaches and supports everyone. We applaud Senator Roberts, Senator Stabenow and the full committee for drafting a 2018 farm bill that provides the strongest basis in the current climate to progress towards that goal, with notable progress on equity and access.

Up Next – Review of additional amendments for the Wednesday mark-up in the Senate Agriculture Committee and possible floor action as soon as Thursday.

See Good, Bad and Ugly Farm Bill Amendments – The Running List in Preparation for Wednesday MarkUp.

Rural Coalition