On the House floor today, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) discussed next week’s legislative schedule, which will include a measure regarding the SNAP program, The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act.
Rep. Cantor stated that, “The House will also consider the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, authored by Agriculture chairman, Representative FRANK LUCAS. This legislation restores the intent of the bipartisan welfare reforms adopted in 1996 to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It also refocuses the program on those who need it most. No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset tests of the current program and is willing to comply with the applicable work requirements will lose his benefits under the bill.”
From MSNBC- Sept. 12- “Next week, House Republicans are expected to vote on a bill sponsored by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) that would cut the nation’s food stamp program by $40 billion over the next 10 years–a move that would kick four to six million Americans off of food stamps. These cuts are coming at a time when nearly 15% of U.S. households–or 49 million Americans–are living in “food insecure” households.
“About 48 million Americans are currently on food stamps, but these households are still struggling to put food on their tables. According to USDA estimates, about half of households that received food stamps suffered from some amount of food security, largely because the subsidy is so small. The average food stamp benefit per person, per month is $133, which translates to $1.50 per day, per meal.
“On Thursday, Feeding America’s Maura Daly joined NOW with Alex Wagner to discuss hunger in America and the pending food stamp legislation in the House.”
Mike Lillis reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee has launched a new strategy for passing a farm bill this year: threaten to send milk prices skyrocketing.
“Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said he called Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week suggesting that the agency begin the process of implementing the 1949-era dairy policies that would take effect Oct. 1 if Congress fails to act on a farm bill before then.
“‘Clearly this is not going to get done by the 1st of October, so my suggestion to the secretary is that they should start now putting the framework together to implement the permanent law on dairy Jan. 1,’ Peterson said Wednesday in the Capitol. ‘And it sounds to me like they’re going to take a very serious look at that.’”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stressed Tuesday that the Obama administration opposes another extension of the 2008 farm bill even though time is running short as the latest extension ends Sept. 30.
“‘An extension is not the answer, and I will tell you we are very much opposed to the idea of an extension and so is the Senate,’ Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters. ‘That’s just not going to happen.’”
Mr. Clayton explained that, “The House of Representatives could hold a floor debate as early as next week on a bill that would cut nutrition programs by as much as $40 billion over 10 years. The cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are 10 times the level passed in the Senate earlier this year. The administration also opposes the House SNAP proposal and is lobbying for its defeat. Vilsack called the SNAP vote a ‘foil’ for an argument over government entitlement programs.
“‘I sincerely hope it gets defeated and I sincerely hope that regardless of the outcome of that vote, that the House then gets serious about getting this farm bill done,’ he said. ‘To do that, they have got to get conferees appointed.’
“The Senate has been prepared to move to conference. Not so in the House. In fact, House members have indicated there is no likelihood of House leaders appointing conferees for the farm bill until after Oct. 1.”
The DTN article added that, “An extension rewards past failures and ‘creates great risk,’ Vilsack said. One concern would be if Congress were to eliminate the $4.8 billion annual direct payments in an extension without allowing at least some of those funds to be shifted elsewhere. That would translate into significantly steeper farm-program cuts than under either the Senate or House versions of the farm bill.”
Niels Lesniewski reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told attendees at a farm bill rally outside the Capitol that she won’t back another short-term extension of farm programs.
“Stabenow wants House Republican leaders to agree to take the farm bill to conference, even without an answer on what the House will do about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
“‘The leadership needs to trust and support [the House Agriculture Committee] and just simply go to conference, appoint conferees, quit playing politics with food assistance,’ the Michigan Democrat said.”
From National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) – Sept. 9- “The farm safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers has shifted from the traditional programs of direct payments, counter cyclical payments, etc., to a risk management-based crop insurance program. In 2012, the U.S. crop insurance program protected more than $117 billion in liability on more than 280 million acres.”
NCIS news release -Sept. 9- On the heels of the worst drought in decades, Americas farmers — and the rural economies they support — bounced back and are expecting a record corn crop this year, due in part to the fact that 86 percent of planted cropland was protected by crop insurance last year.
“America’s breadbasket rebounded after a punishing drought and farmers have shown that with the right risk management tools in place, they are among the most resilient and productive workers in the nation,” said Tom Zacharias, president of [NCIS].
A new NCIS video offers an oversight of risk management in agriculture and the various risks farmers face, including those from Mother Nature, market forces and rising input costs. “America used to handle agricultural risk through unbudgeted, after the fact ad hoc disaster bills,” notes Zacharias, adding that this was all taxpayer funded, very costly, and slow to deliver.
Finally, America turned to a before the fact, affordable and more accountable way to handle agriculture disasters: Crop insurance. In 2001, crop insurance began its rise in prominence as farmers’ most useful, and popular risk management tool, all while overall federal agriculture spending was trending down. “The idea here was to reduce taxpayer burden and put the system on a planned, sustained basis, notes Zacharias.
And the drought of 2012 put that model to the test. “Crop insurance was credited with helping to keep the rural economy afloat,” he added, noting a recent study that credited crop insurance with saving 22,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in four Midwest states alone after the 2012 drought. “This was an enormous benefit,” he added, noting that as we saw the drought sweep through the nation last summer, “indemnity payments were paid back to the farmers within ten to thirty days, and money went back into the rural communities.”
“And an important part from the aspect of farm policy is that there was no call for an ad hoc disaster bill,” he added. “And taxpayers were not on the hook for the whole thing.”
In a television interview back on August 29th, House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) stated that, “[Speaker Boehner] told me and [House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.)], right before we left, that they were going to vote on food stamps and then no matter what happens on that vote—and they weren’t sure if they can pass it—he’s going to appoint conferees right afterwards. And then he said to us I want this done by September 30th, so he wants the bill done. Boehner has never been the problem.”
And in a radio interview on August 8th with J. Doug Williams (K-101-FM radio, Woodward, Okla.), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) indicated that, “But if we cannot pass the food stamp language, we’re going to conference on the ‘Farm Bill Farm Bill’ in September.”
On August 28th, The Grand Forks Herald (N.D.) reported that, “[House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.)] said Speaker of the House John Boehner will appoint members of a conference committee on the farm bill in September, after passing a bill dealing with food stamps.
“‘We in the House expect to move a nutrition title out of the House,’ Cantor said. ‘That title will reflect the reform agenda that we’ve been about in the nutrition program.’”
And, Ed O’Keefe reported on August 29th at the Post Politics Blog (Washington Post) that, “Aides to House Republican leaders said Wednesday that they are still considering how to proceed with legislation establishing federal farm and food aid policy after news reports suggested that top leadership had settled on a strategy.”
However, as the Congressional recess ended, political variables changed.
From The Des Moines Register (posted on Sept. 6)- “Rep. Steve King (R, Iowa) on the Farm Bill: “So the best that can happen at this point is that we pass a nutrition bill and a farm bill; the farm bill piece is passed by the House. We set it on the table with the Senate.”
From The Des Moines Register (Sept. 6)– Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa) on Farm Bill: “Well, the ball is in the court of the Republican leadership in the House right now. They passed a fake farm bill that was opposed by 530 groups, they have to get to conference somehow with the Senate.”
Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman reported in Thursday’s New York Times that, “The intensifying debate over military action in Syria is threatening to consume the limited amount of time that Congress had allocated this month for dealing with a budget clash and the rest of President Obama’s domestic agenda.
“Lawmakers are scheduled to return to reconvene Congress on Monday after their annual summer break. With a budget and debt limit clash looming in October, the legislative window had already narrowed for any action on immigration, energy efficiency, a new Federal Reserve chairman and an examination of surveillance laws.
“Now, with Mr. Obama’s surprise decision to request Congressional authorization for a Syria strike, the political casualties are mounting quickly.”
The Times article noted that, “The problem is especially striking in the House, which will barely be in session this month.”
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Despite the explosion in food stamp enrollment, the percentage of American households experiencing food shortages remains stubbornly high, with so-called ‘insecure’ families having 26 percent less for food than a typical ‘secure’ household of the same size.
“The survey data — covering 2012 — was released Wednesday morning as part of the Agriculture Department’s annual report on household food security in the U.S. An estimated 14.5 percent of households were listed as food insecure — a number that’s consistent with findings since the economic downturn in 2008 but substantially higher than the decade beforehand.
“From 1998 through 2007, for example, the same survey showed that the percentage of insecure households averaged about 11 percent. But with the recession, the number jumped to 14.6 percent in 2008 and has largely remained there since.”
* Fifth District- Richmond- “Heavy rains in the Mid-Atlantic delayed the harvest of some grains and hay cutting, particularly in the lowlands of the Carolinas. According to one source, cotton, peanuts, and soybeans might be damaged by the unusually high levels of precipitation. Another contact in South Carolina noted that some late crops could not be planted and root systems of plants in the ground have not developed well because of the rain. He added that cotton and tobacco crops “do not look good at all.” A number of contacts noted that corn prices had risen and were expected to remain high for some time. Prices of beef and pork were also up, according to sources. Poultry farming and fruit production were strong in recent weeks. Results of our recent agricultural credit survey indicated that farmland values remained relatively constant since the beginning of this year.”
* Sixth District- Atlanta- ”Since the last report, most of the District received ample or, in some cases, excessive rain. These rains have resulted in problems with pesticide efficacy, delayed planting, and damage or reduced yield for some crops. On a year-over-year basis, prices paid to farmers were elevated for meat protein (beef, hogs, and broilers), corn for grain and cotton saw price reductions, and soybean prices remained unchanged.”
* Seventh District- Chicago- “Dry weather affected crop conditions in much of the District during the reporting period, lowering expectations for crop yields. Soybeans especially needed rain in order to fill out pods. Some of Iowa once again faced drought conditions. Nonetheless, corn and soybean conditions remained much better than they were during the drought last year. There were even parts of the District that received adequate moisture and should have above normal yields. Indeed, corn and soybean prices decreased on both spot and futures markets. There were also reports that less of this year’s harvest than usual was pre-sold. Milk, hog and cattle prices declined from the prior reporting period, with livestock producers benefiting from falling feed costs. District milk production once again outpaced the levels of a year ago.”
* Eighth District – St. Louis- “Farmers in the District expect that the corn crop in 2013 will produce, on average, 59 percent more corn than last year. In contrast, the District cotton crop is expected to fall short of 2012 levels both in terms of acres harvested and production. Across the District states, 92 percent of the corn crop was rated in fair or better condition; the sorghum and soybean crops were similarly rated, with 93 percent and 91 percent in fair or better condition, respectively.”
* Ninth District- Minneapolis- “Conditions for District agricultural producers improved since the last report. While progress remains slower than average, recent warm and dry weather has helped crops catch up, as the majority of the corn, soybean and spring wheat crops are listed in good or excellent condition in all District states. According to the Minneapolis Fed’s second- quarter (July) survey of agricultural credit conditions, 90 percent of respondents said farm incomes increased or held steady over the previous three months, with similar results for household and capital spending. Despite the wet beginning to the growing season, USDA estimates indicate that acres of corn and soybeans planted in District states saw only a small decline compared with last year. North Dakota wheat acreage fell nearly 1 million acres, or 12 percent, from last year. Prices received by producers increased in July from a year earlier for cattle, hogs, milk, eggs, chicken, hay and potatoes; prices for corn, wheat, dry beans and turkeys fell, while soybean prices were flat.”
* Tenth District- Kansas City- “Farm income prospects dimmed since the last survey period as drought persisted and crop prices fell. While yields varied, winter wheat production was below average across the District. In some areas without irrigation, dry weather hindered corn development and weakened plants against disease. Much of the District’s corn crop was considered in fair condition although the soybean crop was still rated in mostly good condition. Crop prices fell in August on higher global production estimates. Even with a drop in feed prices, losses continued for most feedlot operators as cattle prices moved lower. In contrast, a rebound in hog prices returned profits to some hog producers. Demand for farm operating loans strengthened with high input costs and reduced farm income. Despite weaker farm income prospects, farmland values continued to set records, with demand for farmland driven in part by high levels of wealth in the farm sector.”
* Eleventh District- Dallas- “Drought conditions continued to affect most of the district, although the severity in several areas was eased by unusually good July rainfall. Farmers began harvesting row crops, and conditions were mostly fair to good. The cotton crop is expected to be smaller than previously anticipated, causing cotton prices to improve slightly. Feeder cattle prices rose over the reporting period because of tight supplies and lower feed costs.”
* Twelfth District- San Francisco- “Sales of agricultural items and resource-related production activity expanded in the District. Demand was generally strong for most crop and livestock products. However, relatively light traffic at fast-food restaurants limited sales of some vegetables. In addition, some grain producers expect slightly lower profits due to price declines.”
A FarmPolicy.comtranscript of yesterday’s AgriTalk interview is available here.
Sec. Vilsack explained that, “Everybody in the country knows we’re not going to have a $40 billion cut in SNAP, and a lot of folks believe it’s a bad idea to separate the nutrition programs from the food programs, so we’ve wasted time, and frankly, that’s something we don’t have a lot of. It’s important for the House to get serious about this and get it done.”
“The reality is there are ways to get this program [SNAP] in better shape,” Sec. Vilsack noted, adding that, “The Senate has looked at certain steps that could be taken. I think we could ask states to do a bit more in terms of finding folks who are able-bodied and getting them to work and having less reliance on SNAP without disqualifying millions and millions of people who would otherwise be qualified for the program. I mean, there’s still a lot of hurt out there in the economy in certain segments, and that’s what this program is designed to provide help and assistance for.”
The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “The U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 were given one year to come to an agreement on a long-term farm bill. They’re not getting another, said United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
“‘There is no support for an extension in the Senate. It just simply rewards failure, and this needs to get done. Everybody in the countryside knows it needs to get done,’ Vilsack said following a town hall hearing on what he calls the food, farm and jobs bill Saturday morning at the Old Threshers Reunion in Mount Pleasant.”
Farm Bill- Perspectives and Observations from Lawmakers
Erich Schaffhauser reported on Friday at Keloland Television (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “With the future of a farm bill up in the air, people at the South Dakota State Fair had a chance to hear from some of the leaders working on the measure.
“Rep. Kristi Noem held a town hall meeting with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Friday.
Friday’s update noted that, “Both Lucas and Noem said they’d like to pass a permanent back-up plan in case farm bills in the future don’t pass. As it sits now, farm policy would revert back decades, which could have adverse effects on the public in general.”