October 25, 2013
Congress has passed the necessary legislation to get government running again, however the national budget and debt ceiling limit discussions are far from over, and are expected to resume in time for their deadlines on January 14th and February 7th respectively. Our government may be back on its feet (temporarily), but our national farm and food programs are not.
The Farm Bill has been awaiting serious Congressional consideration for two years now. In 2012, the Farm Bill reauthorization process was delayed, negotiated behind closed doors, allowed to expire, and ultimately extended as we moved into 2013. And now we seem to have followed a similar course of action, driving the Farm Bill to its second expiration in two years. Although it has not been highlighted in the news as much as we would hope, it is true that the Farm Bill expired alongside the government shutdown on October 1.* We are currently functioning without a Farm Bill, and regulating under permanent law dating as far back as 1938.
As it stands now, both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the Farm Bill through their respective Agriculture Committees and on the Floor of both houses, and due to the inevitable differences between the two versions, the next step is to Conference the two bills. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) will be the Chair of the recently appointed conference committee.
The four principals of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have held discussions on next steps for the Farm Bill, and their Congressional Aides have held meetings prior to the Conference process. The first public meeting for the 2013 conference committee is set for Wednesday, October 30 at 1:00 pm. The Conference process is new for many members, and there are great divides between the two proposed bills that the Committee has to negotiate through.
Although the impact of the Farm Bill expiration will largely not be felt until January 1st, when we hit the “Dairy Cliff,” there is great uncertainty for the future of our farm programs and policies that support and shape our farmers and ranchers as they approach growing season. During the reauthorization of our past two Farm Bills (2002 and 2008), Congress gradually adopted a set of programs to build the foundation for a new food system. This emerging food system, a small but growing portion of overall US Farm and Food Policy, has the potential to enhance equity for our nation’s diverse producers and farmworkers, secure a future in agriculture for new entry farmers and rural, urban and tribal communities, and provide fresh, local food for all consumers. These programs are now most at risk during the current government neglect.
Of equal concern is the condition of our nation’s nutrition programs as our communities are still under economic recovery. With drastic differences in proposed cuts ($4.5 billion in Senate, $39.5 billion in House), it is unclear just how SNAP will fair. In addition to these proposed cuts, on November 1st, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients will feel a significant loss as the 2009 Recovery Act expires, and the temporary boost in benefits to all households reduces, resulting in less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014 on average (an estimated $5 billion cut nationally).
The Rural Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, San Diego Hunger Coalition, Community Food and Justice Coalition, and many other partners are continue to push for increased funding for and the continuation of critical programs left stranded, nutrition programs, conservation programs, and others that benefit beginning farmers, families, and our local communities, and has put together a Conference Letter, which provides recommendations for the Conference process.
After two years of working through the reauthorization process, CFJC, along with our partners, will continue to represent our members, our farmland, our farmers, and our hungriest families and children at the policy table. And we are doing everything we can to make sure our conferees and other Congressional champions are ready to make these critical decisions that will affect our producers and consumers for years to come. We have an uphill battle to ensure our Members pass a full and fair Farm Bill that will first and foremost support the needs of our communities and producers, and not another extension.
We encourage you to join us in the #FairFarmBill campaign and stir up a social media storm for the rest of the month. We also urge you to have your organization and partners to sign on onto a statement on the Farm Bill, prepared and circulated by the signatories who regularly participate in the GOAT Process, which promotes a fair farm bill with equity and sustainability. The statement already has over 425 organizational signers from urban to rural, grassroots to policy-based groups, and we will continue to collect signers until our message is heard.
Now is a great time to call your representative’s office in district, or in DC, and voice your needs and priorities, particularly to those Members appointed to the conference committee. Use the statement as a tool, or reach out to Jessy at firstname.lastname@example.org with request for additional resources.
* If you need a refresher on the timeline of the 2012/2013 Farm Bill, check out our Farm Bill Timeline infographic