Farm bill finalized
U.S. House and Senate leaders finalized their agreement on a five-year Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (farm) bill this week. The measure influences nearly every aspect of food and fiber production in the country, and also defines and funds federal welfare benefits, among other functions.
The bill, which bipartisan negotiators agreed upon Monday evening, cuts about $23 billion in federal spending, according to The Washington Post. The bill ends direct payments to farmers, consolidates many Agriculture Department programs and cuts nearly $8 billion from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) funding.
However, the new bill isn’t totally austere. It also extends and funds programs the National Association of Counties (NACo) champions as being vital to the health of local governments.
According to NACo materials, the bill extends the Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program for FY2014, reauthorizes county priorities within the Rural Development title and protects county authority over forest and logging roads.
“The farm bill as it stands tonight is a major win for the nation’s counties and the residents we serve,” NACo President and Supervisor of Linn County, Iowa, Linda Langston, said in a statement. “It cannot be overstated how important 2014 PILT program funding and reauthorization of county-supported rural development programs are to local economies as we work to emerge from years of recession and slow economic growth.”
Since local governments are unable to collect property taxes on federally held land, the PILT program was adopted in the mid ‘70s to offset negative financial impacts. According NACo and Department of the Interior materials, since the program’s inception, nearly $63 million has been given to local governments, including 1,850 counties in 49 states, to provide education, waste disposal, law enforcement, health care, firefighting, parks and recreation and many other services.
According to NACo, the key elements of the bill that will impact local governments include:
- The Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program will be extended as a fully funded, mandatory entitlement program at $425 million.
- The Rural Development title will receive $228 million in mandatory funding for programs such as the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program as well as Water and Wastewater infrastructure programs.
- SNAP funding will be cut by $8 billion over the next 10 years.
- The Environmental Protection Agency will regulate stormwater runoff from logging and forest roads using locally authored best management practices rather than by the Clean Water Act’s industrial stormwater permit program.
The Washington Post reports House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) support for the farm bill. Boehner called the deal “a positive step in the right direction” while Cantor said, “This was not an easy task, and it took hard work to arrive here.” The bill’s final passage through the House and Senate is expected within the next few days.