June 1, 2012
The next two weeks are likely to see some decisive action on the Farm Bill. The Senate’s version of the bill could reach the Senate floor for a vote by the second week of June. (The House Ag Committee still has to hash out their version, and intends to have it written by the end of June.) So, you may be asking, What are the differences between the current (2008) Farm Bill and the one that may be coming down the pike?
Obtaining concrete information about the Senate’s version has been challenging, as the bill was not officially filed until last Thursday, May 24. We culled all the data we could from the versions of the bill available, and updated the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer with a feature that makes it easy to compare the Senate version of the 2012 bill to the previous version.
For those who don’t have time to pore over the Visualizer, here’s a quick, top-line read of new developments we’re tracking in the Senate version due to their potential impact on health, and how they stack up for improving public health. (Note: these are programs with a budget line-item; there are some other shifts in the Senate bill that aren’t reflected here, such as pilot programs for using SNAP benefits online and supporting the use of SNAP benefits for Community Supported Agriculture programs.) This list is by no means comprehensive, but we think it’s a good start.
Repeals that could benefit public health
- Direct Payments (While we’re glad to see direct payments go, we are concerned about the vital role played by conservation compliance requirements tied to direct payments. These requirements should be attached to crop insurance.)
Repeals that could harm public health
- Wetlands Reserve
- Grassland Reserve
- Farm and Ranchlands Protection
(The above 3 programs have been combined into the newly named Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. While some positive steps were taken by combining the programs, doing so reduced funding significantly for all three efforts. Read this NSAC blogpost on the new ACEP.)
- Chesapeake Bay Watershed
- Agricultural Water Enhancement
(The above 2 programs have been combined with a few other programs into the newly named Regional Conservation Partnership. Again, while there are some positive legislative changes, there was a significant reduction in funding for these efforts.)
- Wildlife Habitat Incentives (This has been folded into the EQIP Incentives Program, and the combined budget suffers cuts.)
New programs that should benefit public health
- Farmers Market Promotion Program has been renamed the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and thus includes a wider mandate for various local and regional food beyond just producer-to-consumer.
- Hunger Free Communities Incentive Grants (While not a new program, a new aspect was added to encourage the purchase of fruits and vegetables by SNAP participants at a variety of locales including farmers markets.)
- Healthy Food Financing Initiative (This is an existing program that is new to the Farm Bill.)
New programs that could harm public health
- Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (As mentioned earlier, this new program is a ménage that combines Grassland Reserve, Wetlands Reserve, and Farm and Ranchlands Protection and will suffer significant cuts over course of Farm Bill. If funding were increased, public health would be better protected)
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program (As mentioned earlier, this new program is a pile-up of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Cooperative Conservation Partnership, Agricultural Water Enhancement, and Great Lakes Restoration programs and will suffer cuts over course of Farm Bill. Again, the funding decreases are the threat to health.)
- General growth of the risk management programs, specifically crop insurance, without tying them to conservation compliance
Funding cuts that put public health at risk
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Conservation Reserve Program
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
- No funding was provided for any of the Rural Development Title
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
- Outreach for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
Funding expanded – a good start for public health!
- Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
- Community Food Projects
Difficult to estimate or may be in jeopardy
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension (Read this NSAC blogpost for thoughts on SARE.)