Lawmakers Reach Deal on Bipartisan Farm Bill

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Contact: Jared King
Communications Director
Navajo Nation Washington Office


Lawmakers Reach Deal on Bipartisan Farm Bill

WASHINGTON—After months of political wrangling, House and Senate conferees reached an agreement Monday on a final conference report and legislation for a massive farm bill.

The agreement would reauthorize agricultural and nutrition programs for five years. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has reserved space for a final vote on the bill in the House of Representatives for Wednesday.

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has indicated that he will wait to see whether the House passes the final legislation but, pending passage, he will bring the bill to a vote in the Senate quickly. A final Congressional Budget Office score on the overall cost of the bill is not yet available.

Senate Bill 954, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, and HR 1947/HR 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, present very different views on how best to reauthorize the 2008 farm bill, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. The current law expired at the end of September 2013 but was extended to prevent a reversion to the 1949 Act with its funding levels.

The bipartisan, comprehensive, Agricultural Act of 2014 provides funding for the USDA, supplemental nutrition programs and rural development programs.

The bill is expected to cut $23 billion off of the previous farm bill. Of particular focus to Washington, the agriculture industry supports approximately 16 million jobs that have been jeopardized by the ongoing legislative impasse.

Among the issues that might still become an issue in the final voting: the reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) spending, along with new eligibility requirements; food origin labeling; dairy programs; poultry standard regulations; meat, poultry and live stock labeling; interstate regulatory requirements; and direct farm subsidies. While the conference report is bipartisan, that does not mean that all lawmakers are happy with the final outcome.

A number of special interests have lined also up to oppose the legislation. These include advocates for food stamps recipients, and industry representatives. These groups, coupled with partisan debates, still provide a significant threat to the passage of the legislation.

Potential Navajo Nation Impacts

The farm bill has five specific programs that will impact the Navajo Nation.

First, SNAP would be reduced by $8 billion over the next decade; a significant compromise between the $4 billion in cuts favored by the Senate and the $40 billion preferred by House. Second, the act creates a Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations Traditional Foods Demonstration Project that would assist tribes in growing and distributing traditional foods from Navajo farmers and ranchers. Third, the bill would establish a traditional foods service program, allowing for traditional foods to be served in schools, hospitals and care facilities. Fourth, the act would create a program to allow the Navajo Nation to administer food assistance programs. Finally, the act would make the Navajo Nation eligible for soil and water conservation programs.

The Navajo Nation has taken advantage of many programs authorized by the current farm bill including the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) Program. The FDPIR is an alternative to the SNAP for low-income households on Indian reservations and low-income Indian households in designated service areas near reservations or in Oklahoma. Section 4(b) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 authorizes FDPIR, to allow Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) to operate a food distribution program for households who prefer USDA Foods to regular SNAP benefits. The USDA administers Food and Nutrition Programs that are funded out of the farm bill. The domestic nutrition programs include FDPIR, the SNAP Child Nutrition Programs (National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Summer Food Service Program), Women Infants and Children (WIC), and other less well know programs. The Navajo Nation also uses funds from the Rural Utility Programs, Rural Development Programs; livestock programs; and Natural Resources Conservation Programs.

The Navajo Nation Washington Office will continue to analyze the legislation and provide a full report on final passage.