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Farm Bill Draft Includes Changes to Food Assistance, Conservation Programs
USAgNet - 04/13/2018

Held up over disagreements over federal food stamps, the first draft of the 2018 farm bill arrived Thursday, bearing 35 changes to that program, including starting a national database of participants.

The current farm bill expires September 30. In the past, Congress has had to extend their work beyond deadlines. The bill released Thursday came from the House Agriculture Committee, which is headed by Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the draft "aligns with many of the principles USDA released" earlier in the year and encouraged that the bill pass "in a timely fashion."

While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) takes up about 80 percent of the farm bill's budget, there's a ton of other programs funded by the legislation. Here's a breakdown of notable changes, by title:

Nutrition

- Republicans are looking to move people off of the SNAP rolls starting first with changing work and job-training requirements. States have had the right waive those requirements if there isn't a "sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals," but the draft imposes tougher limits on those waivers.

- The draft provides states more money for the states' existing job-training programs, starting at $90 million in fiscal year 2019 and working up to $1 billion a year by 2021.

- In an effort to monitor SNAP more closely, the draft would create a national system called the Duplicative Enrollment Database to make sure people can't apply for assistance in multiple states. It would also research and incentivize systems that would track who is on food stamps, for how long, what the benefits are spent on and a recipient's employment status.

- The amount allocated for food stamps may increase, as a provision of the bill is to re-evaluate the cost of food every five years so benefit keep up with inflation.

- The bill would also allow the amount of assets a person has to go up, allowing a car valued at up to $12,000.

Conservation

- The Conservation Stewardship Program, which currently covers about 10 million acres of land, is being rolled into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. All farmers enrolled in CSP will still get their payments until the new farm bill is finalized. EQUIP currently funds about 36,000 projects on farms ranging from cover crops to irrigation systems, and the House's farm bill draft caps payments to a single participant at $50,000 a year.

- Also, the acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program, which Harvest has described as taking "environmentally sensitive land out of production," will rise from its current cap of 24 million acres to 30 million acres by fiscal year 2023.

- There's a proposed pilot program to control the feral hog population, at the cost of $100 million over a 5-year period. Politifact reports that most of the feral hogs in the U.S. live in 10 mostly southern states, including Texas and Florida.

Rural development

- The proposed bill takes steps to address rural health issues like opioid abuse. It directs more money toward addiction services by allowing Perdue to prioritize telehealth projects and grants to create facilities aimed at prevention, treatment and recovery.

- The U.S. Department of Agriculture will also be able to award loans and grants to "agricultural associations" that set up health insurance plans for rural residents. The Iowa Farm Bureau is planning to sell low-cost plans, though they will be sold outside of the Affordable Care Act marketplaces and lack some of the ACA coverage protections.

- The draft does not follow through on proposals in the White House's proposed budget from earlier this year that would have zeroed-out rural development programs, such as water facility grants and business development grants (which are awarded to small, rural businesses that often can't find financial backing from commercial banks).

Crop insurance

- Crop insurance was widely viewed in the 2014 farm bill as the primary safety net for farmers, and is much the same in the new draft.

- It directs Perdue to create a competitive grant-making program for projects to teach producers about crop insurance, as well as a range of other tools, including trading options, debt-reduction strategies and diversifying production.

- The bill directs Perdue to fund programs that target beginning farmers and ranchers, "legal immigrant farmers or ranchers that are attempting to become established producers in the United States," and "socially disadvantaged" farmers and ranchers. But it also says attention should also be paid to long-time farmers and ranchers who are preparing to retire, as well as help new people get started or help them change operations to pursue new markets.

- While the farm bill can modify crop insurance, the overall program is managed through a separate federal crop insurance law.

Research

- For the most part, funding will remain even, except for organic agriculture research, which gets a $10 million bump to $30 million annually. Animal health and disease research would receive $25 million each year, and the specialty crop and research initiative, which was boosted to $80 million in the 2014 farm bill will remain the same, including at least $25 million for emergency citrus disease research.

- The proposed bill would repeal a nutrition education program and discontinue the renewable energy committee.

- The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit institution that researches public-private collaborations and received $200 million in initial funding in the 2014 farm bill was not mentioned in the House committee's draft.

Conaway said he expects to perfect the bill next week and send it to the full House. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet released its draft of the farm bill.

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