The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Still little progress on Farm Bill

  • Since the partial shutdown of the federal government ended, there has been little change in the status of a new farm bill to replace the extension that expired Sept. 30.
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  • Since the partial shutdown of the federal government ended, there has been little change in the status of a new farm bill to replace the extension that expired Sept. 30.
    "...The four principals of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met last week. It was a productive conversation and the process is ongoing," said Tamara Hinton, communications director for the House Agriculture Committee.
    Since the farm bill House-Senate conference committee had its first public meeting last month, there has been little to report as to whether the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Senate will agree on the $80 billion-per-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also called food stamps.
    The farm bill extension, which was passed in January, caused a number of farm programs to revert to permanent law — rate structures set in the 1940s — when it expired Sept. 30.
    With dairy supports set to expire at the end of the year, milk prices could go through the roof if legislators fail to act accordingly.
    According to Missouri Eighth District Congressman Jason Smith, the cost of a gallon of milk could easily double.
    "I remain hopeful that the conference committee will keep the cost-savings reforms that were passed by the House," Smith said earlier this month. "The House farm bill included $20 billion in savings by reforming or eliminating over 100 old and obsolete programs. The House farm bill also created an additional $40 billion in savings by reforming food-stamp eligibility to make sure that only those who really need government assistance receive it, and by not rewarding individuals who are able to find loopholes."
    According to a Sept. 30 report from the Associated Press, the House's $4 billion in cuts per year is contending with the Senate's $400 million in cuts per year.
    The SNAP program has more than doubled since 2008, with more than 47 million Americans, using the program, the report said.
    While the issue of food stamps remains an obstacle, time is running out, as there are less than four legislative weeks left.
    "Now that the farm bill has expired we have a small window of time to pass new legislation before families are hit with higher grocery bills," Smith said.
    A recent report from the University of Missouri Extension office states that the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program also expired Sept. 30, which has proven to be a "financial safety net" for dairy farmers.
    "When milk prices crash, and prices do, farmers need protection," said Joe Horner, a University of Missouri Extension dairy economist. "There were times in the last 10 years when the only thing keeping us afloat was MILC payments."
    Conference Committee Chairman Congressman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) said in his opening statement last month that "an effective safety net" is needed.
    "The House farm bill reflects a belief in giving farmers and ranchers – no matter where they live or what they grow – something they can count on to help mitigate risks inherent in this business," Lucas said. "Whether it is the risk of a natural disaster or the risk of a multi-year price collapse, we must provide the tools for farmers to make it to the next year."
    Page 2 of 2 - Missouri's Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's office recently released a statement admonishing the House for its failure to pass the comprehensive farm bill legislation.
    "The time we have to provide some certainty to Missouri's farmers and ranchers is running out," McCaskill said. "What we need are for some of the inflexible and extreme lawmakers we have in Washington to sit at the table of compromise and finish the deal."
    In a letter from McCaskill last week, committee members were urged to place a $250,000 cap for individual farmers, which she predicts would save taxpayers more than $160 million a year.
    "We believe farm programs should offer support in tough times, but like other economic safety nets, the assistance should have limits," the letter states.
    Farm Bill background
    In January, Congress passed an extension of farm bill legislation passed in 2008.
    In June of this year, the Senate passed a bill including both food stamps and farm programs. Defeating the first bill, claiming the cuts to food stamps weren't deep enough, the House passed what is referred to as the agriculture portion of the farm bill in July, but the the food stamp portion was still being considered.
    Congressman Jason Smith said in July that the House's agriculture-only bill had passed with a vote of 216-208.
    Smith, who voted yes, said the bill would aid farmers for the next five years.
    "The food stamp provisions were all taken out and only the agriculture provisions were dealt with. That is the first time that has happened in over 40 years," he said.
    The initial farm bill included $20 billion in cuts to the food stamp program. News reports stated that the $20 billion in cuts were not enough for House Republicans, while they were too steep for some Democrats.
    "With the farm bill, we have to eliminate direct payments to farmers and replace it with crop insurance," Smith said. "That would provide certainty to the farmers. And we need to reform the food stamp program to where we're trying to get incentives to get people to get off the program instead of being reliant on it."
    Both President Barack Obama and Democratic Sen. Harry Reid are opposed to the House's cuts to the food stamp program. Obama has stated openly that he would veto any such legislation.
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