Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Top House Republicans on Thursday pressed departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to rein in what they see as food stamp cheating by state governments.
“GOP leaders have been angered that the deficit reduction from the new farm bill could be less than expected because states have found a way to thwart a new restriction on food stamp eligibility in the legislation.
“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) wrote to Sebelius seeking answers about how the department administers the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and whether it can prevent states from ‘misusing’ the program to get more food stamp dollars.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “After the buckets of political blood spilled over food stamps this past year, the Congressional Budget Office has quietly lowered its cost estimate for the nutrition program by $24 billion over the next decade.
“The ‘technical’ adjustment is tucked into a report issued Monday and reflects revisions in how CBO calculates what the average beneficiary receives each month under food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“It’s just a 3 percent change but more than a little ironic after the fighting over fewer SNAP dollars that dogged the recently enacted five-year farm bill. Indeed, having announced the adjustment, CBO’s report then goes out of its way to say as little as possible about the rest of the farm bill’s costs, even with the drop in grain prices.”
An update posted yesterday at fibre2fashion.com reported that, “The board of the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers (ABRAPA) has called for a speedy implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) panel against the US farm bill, especially in view of the conflict with US regarding the cotton subsidies.
“According to a statement issued by ABRAPA, board members of ABRAPA recently met with Brazilian Ambassador to WTO Paulo Estivallet de Mesquita, also the director of the Economic Department of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and requested him to seek for quick action from the WTO panel against the US farm bill [sic].”
Donnelle Eller reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “More than ever, Craig Boot says there’s little room for error this year as Iowa farmers prepare to plant this spring.
“Prices for corn and soybeans are improving, but depending on land and other expenses, they’re close to production costs for many farmers.”
The article indicated that, “‘We’ll take care of the things we need to take care of … but as far as buying something new and green, there won’t be any big-ticket items like there were in the last few years,’ said [Jerry Mohr, who farms in eastern Iowa near Davenport] recently as he applied fertilizer on fields where he will grow corn and seed corn.
On Friday, a USDA news release indicated that, “Today, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of more than $19 million in grants to help train, educate and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of agricultural producers through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).”
Jane Wells, of CNBC, elaborated on this issue in a report on Friday’s Squawk Box program, which included remarks from Sec. Vilsack.
Earlier this week on The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC- television), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked about the minimum wage and noted that, “When you raise the minimum wage, you raise wages for 28 million Americans. About 50 percent of those Americans make less than $35,000 a year. A substantial percentage of those folks live in rural communities that I care deeply about. You raise those wages, you are absolutely going to move people out of the need for SNAP or as much SNAP as they`ve been currently receiving, the food stamps.”
Elaborating on the SNAP program, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “[B]ecause the recent farm bill, there was a conversation about potentially reducing food stamps by $40 billion. That didn`t go anywhere and it ended up being a very small reduction and many governors around the country are figuring out ways to even avoid that reduction…[S]ixty-six percent of people receiving food stamps are one of three types of individual. You`re either a child, a person with a disability, or a senior citizen. Add the 7 percent that are veterans, and you have nearly three quarters of the people receiving food stamps, not any politician is going to want to cut support for children, for senior citizens, for people with disabilities and veterans.
“And then when you realized that 42 percent of food stamp recipient families are earning some kind of wage, that only 8 percent of all food stamp recipients are receiving cash welfare, this is really about the working poor. That`s why raising the minimum wage will help move people out of SNAP and out of dependence on that food assistance program.”
From the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), April 9 – “Secretary Vilsack discusses the implementation of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill), food security, and immigration reform, as part of CFR’s Renewing America series.
“The Renewing America series examines how policies at home directly influence the economic and military strength of the United States and its ability to act in the world.”
Speaker: Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Presider: Roger C. Altman, Founder and Chairman, Evercore Partners, Inc.
In his prepared remarks to the Subcommittee, Under Sec. Scuse noted that, “The President’s Budget includes a proposal to consolidate 250 field offices. However, there are steps that need to be taken to reshape and restructure our county offices and workforce before we can begin actively planning any office consolidation plan. So far, the agency has not identified any specific offices for closure and implementation of these changes will carry over beyond FY 2015. FSA is proposing to reduce non-federal staff by 815 FTEs, saving $61.6 million, and realigning approximately 300 federal headquarters and state office oversight staff to the county offices, saving $6.8 million.
“To promote increased efficiency, the IT request includes base funding to continue contract services that support modernization, development and maintenance of applications systems, and deployment support (e.g. data and database administration, testing and certification, and security). These funds will enable FSA to maintain essential program delivery and operations in the field, as well as provide support for improvements. This funding includes 65.0 million for MIDAS.”
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “We will explore two of the more controversial proposals from the Farm Service Agency that call for a reduction of 815 non-federal permanent full time staff years and the closure of 250 county offices. While all of us on the Subcommittee are proponents of efficiencies, many of us here are not convinced that FSA has fully developed these plans and the savings associated with the proposals.”
Chairman Aderholt inquired about proposed technological advancements at yesterday’s hearing. He noted that proposed efficiencies from fewer FSA offices are contingent on successful implementation of necessary technological variables that are used in the field offices, including the FSA “MIDAS” software. To listen to a portion of a discussion on this issue, including remarks about MIDAS between Chairman Aderholt and Under Sec. Scuse, just click here (MP3- 1:43).
A news release yesterday from USDA indicated that, “The [USDA] announced today that farmers and ranchers can sign-up for disaster assistance programs, reestablished and strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, beginning Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Quick implementation of the programs has been a top priority for USDA.”
And Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture.com that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of North American Agricultural Journalists in Washington, DC, Monday that farmers should be able to begin comparing the farm bill’s new commodity programs this summer ‘so that producers will have a good three or four months to analyze and assess these programs to make the best possible decision for their particular operation.’
“Vilsack told Agriculture.com that he expects that farmers will be able to sign up for programs before the end of this calendar year.
“Vilsack said that online decision-making tools and materials for Extension educators should be available in a month or two.”
Ron Hays, of The Oklahoma Farm Report and Radio Oklahoma Network, spoke on Saturday with House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) about the Farm Bill and farm policy variables at an agriculture town hall during the Oklahoma City Farm Show.
An audio replay and summary of the Chairman’s remarks from Saturday can be found here , while an unofficial FarmPolicy.comtranscript of a portion of Saturday’s conversation with Ron Hays and Chairman Lucas is available here.
Chairman Lucas walked the crowd through a brief overview of the development of the 2014 Farm Bill including some of the political realities that contributed to “a two and a half year process of passing a Farm Bill” that “should have taken six months.”
From the Iowa Press, April 4- “USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is the guest on this edition of Iowa Press. He discusses the latest concerns in rural America as well as political issues surrounding the 2014 elections.
“Joining Vilsack at the Iowa Press table are moderator Dean Borg; Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa; and James Lynch, political writer for The Gazette.”
A video replay of the program is available below, and a transcript can be found here.
Farm broadcaster Don Wick, of the Red River Farm Network, interviewed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack yesterday where the discussion focused on the Farm Bill. An unofficial FarmPolicy.comtranscript of yesterday’s interview is available here, while an audio replay can be heard here.
Mr. Wick asked Sec. Vilack about recent Farm Bill stakeholder meetings and what was gleaned from the discussions. Sec. Vilsack noted that, “I think what we learned was, number one, people are anxious to get this implemented, and number two, that we have correctly identified the first thing that needs to get done, which is disaster assistance for our livestock producers, and number three, that producers are very anxious to get information about the other choices that they’re going to have to make in terms of crop insurance coverages and in terms of the safety net programs, which is why our focus, after we get the livestock disaster assistance programs up and going on or before April 15th so people can make application for the resources they need for losses they incurred in 2011, ’12 and ’13, we’re going to focus our attention on getting the informational materials out to folks across the country so that they can begin familiarizing themselves with the programs and begin making informed decisions about what they need to do.”
Teresa Watanabe reported on the front page of today’s Los Angeles Times that, “It’s lunchtime at Washington Preparatory High School in Los Angeles, but 16-year-old Parrish Jackson has barely touched her turkey burger and apricots.
“She’s dumping them into the trash can.”
The article added that, “And so it goes on hundreds of campuses in Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, which serves 650,000 meals a day. Students throw out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more, according to estimates by David Binkle, the district’s food services director. That amounts to $18 million a year — based on a conservative estimate of 10% food waste — which Binkle says would be far better spent on higher-quality items, such as strawberries or watermelon.”
Climate Issues- White House Proposal, and Farm Bill Issues
Justin Gillis reported on the front page of today’s New York Times that, “Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
“The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.”
Chapter Seven of the report, which is available here, is titled, “Food Security & Food Production Systems.”
Mr. Adams queried on the radio program yesterday: “What is the biggest challenge, when you’re looking at that commodity title and you say it’s going to take the rest of this year, what is the biggest hurdle you have to overcome to get that thing going?”
Dep. Sec. Hardin indicated that, “It is complicated. And because it does lock in producers for the life of the farm bill, we want to make sure that they can make decisions that is right for them. A lot of changes. There are IT changes, you know, getting our systems up-to-date and making the changes, training our personnel, making sure we’re communicating with producers so that they have the information to make informed decisions. There’s a lot of steps in this process. We’re going to make sure we take each step and do it right so producers can make good decisions and not just a quick decision.”