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Farm Bill Status Update: No Completion Until at Least After Mid-Term Elections

Monday, October 22, 2018
filed under: Utilization/Trade

       With the end of Fiscal Year 2018 as of September 30, time ran out on the Agricultural Act of 2014.  Major programs including crop insurance and SNAP (food stamps) continue because they are permanently authorized and funded.  The 2014 Act also provides funding through the marketing year for 2018 program crops, but the dairy program will expire at the end of December. While the Conservation Reserve Program is permanently funded, its authority lapses as of October, meaning that USDA will honor existing contracts but not be able to enter into new ones. 
       Then there are 39 so-called “orphan” programs that lost both authorization and funding on October 1, including certain conservation programs, most bioenergy (biofuels), rural development and Then there are 39 so-called “orphan” programs that lost both authorization and funding on October 1, including certain conservation programs, most bioenergy (biofuels), rural development and agricultural research programs. The Foreign Market Development (FMD) program also lost authorization and funding on October 1 while the Market Access Program (MAP) will remain authorized and funded through December.  A coalition of farm groups that participate in FMD and MAP has been working to maintain authorization and increased funding for these export promotion programs in the new farm bill.
       Negotiations between the House and Senate on the 2018 farm bill have bogged down on several issues, including the SNAP work requirements in the House bill.  A compromise under which waivers of these requirements by states would be restricted has been floated, but no agreement is in sight.  
       Another provision in the House bill would make base acres that weren’t planted to a program crop in 2009 to 2017 ineligible for Title 1 payments under ARC and PLC.  Savings from this change would be used to allow producers who experienced severe drought in 2009 to 2012 to update their yields under the PLC program.  The base change provision is controversial because farmers who have been allowed to under-plant their base and receive payments since the 1996 farm bill would have their base and payments taken away.  
       It is highly unlikely that Congress will return to Washington before the end of October to finish the farm bill.  
       The annual appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2019 has made more progress than in recent years.  Congressional appropriators decided on a bipartisan basis early this year to keep policy disputes out of the FY 2019 spending bills in the interest of finishing them on time.   The strategy has paid off.  A minibus of three of the 12 bills (Energy & Water / Legislative Branch / Military Construction-Veteran Affairs) was passed in mid-September and signed into law by President Trump on September 21.  And in late September, the President signed another mini-bus (Department of Defense / Labor-HHS-Education) that cleared Congress earlier that week that also included a catch-all Continuing Resolution for all remaining appropriations at current levels through December 7.  So the threat of a government shutdown has been averted until after the elections.  The Agriculture appropriations bill, being considered in a minibus containing three other bills — Financial Services, Interior, and Transportation-HUD — is, unfortunately, among the unfinished spending bills.
       Legislators will return after the November 6 mid-term elections to elect new leaders for the 116th Congress, but they won’t get around to finishing the remaining spending bills and trying to finalize the farm bill until after Thanksgiving.  
       Farm groups are calling on Congress to complete the next farm bill this year rather than consider an extension when they come back to Washington.  A short-term extension would avoid the “dairy cliff” at the end of December, but would mean starting the farm bill process over again with a new Congress and potentially new members and leaders of the Agriculture Committees. 
 * John Gordley is president of Gordley Associates, Washington, D.C., representatives for the National Sunflower Association for the past 31 years.
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