It has become clear that Congress will allow the 2008 Farm Bill to expire on September 30. The farm bill will remain stalled in the House of Representatives while Congress is in recess through the November election.
With the Senate passing a bipartisan bill back in June, responsibility for the stalemate falls at the feet of House leadership who has struggled to find a political sweet spot to move either a temporary extension of current law or the draft bill reported out of the Agriculture Committee. House leadership has faced political challenges centered on intra- and inter-party differences over funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House Republicans are divided over whether the Agriculture Committee-passed bill that proposes $16 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next ten years is adequate or not enough. Meanwhile, House Democrats generally consider the proposed SNAP cuts to be too severe. The two caucuses have remained just as divided over the implications of extending current legislation.
Looking ahead, with the expected expiration of current law on September 30, Congress has until the end of the calendar year to take action before serious consequences to the farm safety net would be triggered. Most major programs in the current law, such as the nutrition programs and crop insurance, will continue with the 6-month Continuing Resolution (H.J Res 117) that is currently making its way through Congress. Further, most commodity programs are dictated by the crop cycle rather than the fiscal calendar providing Congress with a cushion of varying lengths before the agriculture production community begins to feel effects. That being said, allowing the current farm bill to expire is not without any consequences.
The most obvious concern is for the 37 programs in the current farm bill that do not have baseline funding or authorization for funding beyond FY 2012. This means that when the current federal fiscal year comes to a close on September 30 that even if Congress wanted to, they could not appropriate funds to these programs. Further, if policymakers intend to continue these programs in their current or revised form, they will need to identify offsets to pay for them. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the cost of continuing these programs for an additional five years would cost between $9 billion to $14 billion.
The 37 expiring provisions affect 12 of the 15 titles in the 2008 Farm Bill. Two of the provisions – the agriculture disaster assistance program and the Wetlands Reserve Program account for approximately 80 percent of the projected costs of reauthorization. Continuation or revision of agriculture disaster assistance, which both the Senate and House farm bills would address, has been a major concern in light of the summer’s drought. The impact on conservation programs has also stirred significant concern.
There are numerous other programs that would be affected if Congress allows either the current farm bill to expire, or even if they enacted a short-term extension because they have no authorization for funding after September 30. Healthy Farms Healthy People is particularly concerned about the impact that this would have on a few of these programs specifically because of our focus on improving affordable access to fruits and vegetables, local and regional food systems, and equity. These programs include (but are not exclusive to) the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Farmers Market Promotion Program, Specialty Crop Research, Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, and Value-Added Producer Grants.
For more information on each of the 37 programs without baseline after September 30, we encourage you to refer to the recent report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, “Expiring Farm Bill Programs Without a Budget Baseline.” The report can be found here and describes the cost of action to reauthorize the expiring programs.
Congress will return in November with a list of must-pass legislation to address, which now must also include the farm bill. It is impossible to predict the path forward for the 2012 farm bill without knowing how the political landscape will look after the election. It’s clear that the House and Senate of this Congress will continue to have significant differences in commodity title policy and SNAP funding when they return in November. With the election behind them, though, there will certainly be some form of action before the end of this Congress to at least bypass the threat of reverting back to 1940’s farm policy.
Healthy Farms Healthy People will continue to monitor and navigate the various scenarios, and we will keep you posted here.