Policy

These Farm Programs Will Turn Into Pumpkins Sunday If Congress Doesn’t Act

Top negotiator on farm bill doesn’t want extension that could keep them afloat

Work requirements for SNAP recipients have been a sticking point as lawmakers try to reach a deal on the farm bill. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images file photo)

Dozens of programs for military veterans turned farmers, small rural businesses and expanding foreign markets for agriculture will end Sunday if lawmakers do not extend the expiring 2014 farm bill.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas said Monday that “it’ll be a tall order” to get a replacement for the current law completed and enacted before the midterm elections in November.

Roberts said he wants to avoid a farm bill extension because interest groups will use the time to lobby more for their positions and make it more difficult for Roberts and his ranking member, Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, along with House Agriculture Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas and ranking member Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, to reach a consensus.

The four are the principal negotiators trying to bridge differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.

Major programs such as crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as the food stamp program — would continue without an extension or new farm bill because they have permanent authority and funding baselines. Funding for some other farm programs would expire over several months, with the dairy program becoming the first to lapse, in December.

Others, however, such as the Conservation Reservation Program, have permanent funding baselines but not permanent authority. That means they would continue to operate but could not approve new contracts, issue new block grants or do anything beyond honoring prior agreements.

An additional 39 so-called orphan programs identified by the Congressional Research Service would lose authorization and mandatory funding Oct. 1. Spending for this group totals $2.8 billion over the five-year, $489 billion farm bill.

“While this total may be a relatively small fraction … the effect may be particularly important to specific farm bill titles and to the programs’ beneficiaries,” the CRS said. “Notable programs among this group include certain conservation programs; most of the bioenergy (including biofuels), rural development, and research title programs; various nutrition title pilot programs and studies; organic agriculture and farmers’ market programs; trade promotion programs; and outreach to socially disadvantaged and military veteran farmers.” 

Last week, Peterson said he was more optimistic than ever that the principals were closer to resolving key differences on the farm bill, but it is likely that negotiators will miss the Sept. 30 deadline. He said differences still existed on Title 1 of the farm bill, which includes contentious limits on farm subsidy payments. Peterson made the comments Friday on the “Adams on Agriculture” radio program.

Like Roberts, Peterson said he sees no need for an extension if they reach an agreement this week or are close to a compromise, but supporters of the orphan programs think otherwise.

“It’s a bit shortsighted to say there’s no impact” from allowing programs to expire for several weeks or months, said Greg Fogel, policy director for National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Small, beginning and minority farmers would lose access to programs designed to help them, Cora Fox, policy associate for the Center for Rural Affairs, said in a statement.

“In the absence of a new farm bill, it is imperative that lawmakers extend current legislation,” Fox said. “Farmers and ranchers across the country rely on important programs that will sunset without an extension of the 2014 farm bill.”

The spending package scheduled for a Wednesday vote in the House includes a continuing resolution to extend government funding through Dec. 7, but it does not provide lifelines for the farm bill programs.

Fogel said that if there’s no conference report this week, Congress would likely wait to vote after November’s midterm elections.

If a lame-duck Congress approves a new farm bill conference report, Fogel said he would expect expired programs to be slow in restarting as USDA implements the wide-ranging legislation.

Sticking points

Peterson said negotiations have focused on waivers provided to states. The waivers exclude single able-bodied adults without dependents from current SNAP work requirements and ease limits on how long this group of beneficiaries can receive food aid.

“We’re really down to the waivers,” Peterson said, without providing details.

Roberts also mentioned waivers Monday night as he talked about trying to reach consensus on SNAP.

“We’re still exploring ways to address the whole nutrition situation, the work requirements,” Roberts said, adding that negotiators are talking about possibly looking into overhauling how states issue work waivers for recipients. “If we can get the waiver challenge behind us, working with the administration would really be very helpful,” Roberts said. “If we do that, I think we could probably get ourselves to a farm bill.”

Changing to the waiver process would give USDA authority to limit waivers given to states and thereby reduce the number of SNAP recipients excluded from current work requirements under the program.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue recently said restricting state SNAP waivers would be a step forward in ending what he considers to be a weakening of work requirements for a segment of SNAP recipients ages 18 to 49.

Watch: McConnell to Family Research Council: ‘We’re Changing America’

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