Twelve Things to Know About the 2018 Farm Bill

Kaolin Sewell October 1, 2018

A flag waves in front of acres of soybeans in Wisconsin.

Once every five years, the farm bill reau­tho­rizes farm and nutri­tion pro­grams nation­wide, cov­er­ing pro­grams such as healthy food access for low-income Amer­i­cans and pro­tect­ing our environment. 

The cur­rent ver­sion – set to expire on Sep­tem­ber 30 – took two years to final­ize and cost near­ly $1 tril­lion in its final form. The 900-page leg­is­la­tion set food pol­i­cy for the next decade but is usu­al­ly renewed every five years.

The imple­men­ta­tion of the farm bill began in 1933 as a slice of then Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The farm bill aims to ful­fill three goals – keep food prices rea­son­able for con­sumers, make sure there is suf­fi­cient food sup­ply and to pro­tect our nat­ur­al resources. 

Con­gres­sion­al lead­ers from the U.S. Sen­ate and the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are con­tin­u­ing to rec­on­cile their ver­sions of the 2018 Farm Bill, a near­ly $870 bil­lion spend­ing plan for pro­grams such as trade, com­modi­ties, food stamps and conservation.

Here’s a look at what’s in the pro­posed 2018 Farm Bill:

Pres­i­dent Trump wants food stamp work require­ments to be includ­ed in the new bill. | New York Times

After the farm bill gets through the U.S. Con­gress, Pres­i­dent Trump hopes to see the inclu­sion of addi­tion­al work require­ments for Amer­i­cans receiv­ing food stamps, as defined by the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP).

New require­ments will up the work oblig­a­tion for those receiv­ing SNAP ben­e­fits as well as place a new lim­it on gov­er­nors’ abil­i­ty to renounce such requirements.

Pres­i­dent Trump has vocal­ized his sup­port for such an amend­ment via Twit­ter. The Pres­i­dent believes it will pos­i­tive­ly impact work­ing Amer­i­cans. There are rough­ly 40 mil­lion low-income Amer­i­cans that SNAP to sub­si­dize their groceries. 

House ver­sion of the 2018 Farm Bill may chip away at the fed­er­al safe­ty net. | NPR

Last year, Fed­er­al Safe­ty Net pro­gram­ming pro­vid­ed month­ly gro­cery funds of $125 to 42.3 mil­lion SNAP par­tic­i­pants. Cur­rent­ly, this pro­gram requires adults between the ages of 18 – 49 with­out any chil­dren, to spend 20 hours per week work­ing jobs or in state-run train­ing programs. 

How­ev­er, train­ing pro­grams can be hard to enroll in due to the large num­ber of SNAP par­tic­i­pants already involved. There are almost 7 mil­lion adults who are in need of this pro­gram but not enough room for them. 

In the Sen­ate, their ver­sion of the new farm bill keeps the exist­ing work require­ments and pro­pos­es the cre­ation of addi­tion­al work train­ing pro­grams to cre­ate more slots for enrollment.

The House comes down stricter. This ver­sion is pro­ject­ed to increase the min­i­mum hours of work or job train­ing for able-bod­ied adults with­out chil­dren between the ages of 18 – 59 to 25 hours per week. The bud­get set for this new require­ment is $1 bil­lion per year. 

If the House ver­sion of the bill pass­es, the reform of work require­ments could affect as many as two mil­lion low-income Americans. 

Sug­ar reform didn’t quite make the cut in House ver­sion of the farm bill. | Wash­ing­ton Examiner

The House bare­ly vot­ed against ren­o­vat­ing the fed­er­al sug­ar sup­port sys­tem in the 2018 farm bill. An amend­ment pro­posed by Rep. Vir­ginia Foxx (R‑N.C.), called for restric­tions on the pro­duc­tion of domes­tic and for­eign sug­ar on the U.S. mar­ket. Essen­tial­ly, the price of sug­ar would drop due to this reform. 

Fed­er­al sug­ar sup­port pro­grams cre­ate a min­i­mum price for pro­duc­ers to sell sug­ar in the event of a price drop. Foxx’s pro­pos­al indi­cat­ed the removal of pro­duc­tion lim­its for U.S. grow­ers and opened doors for an influx of imports.

For now, the price of sug­ar will stay high and the pro­gram will stand as is — the amend­ment was flat­tened in the House, 278 – 137

The House and Sen­ate con­sid­er re-eval­u­at­ing school lunch­es. | The Tele­graph

Accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, rough­ly 20 per­cent of Amer­i­can school chil­dren are obese. In an effort to com­bat unhealthy eat­ing in schools, the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion ren­o­vat­ed nutri­tion stan­dards in the Nation­al School Lunch Pro­gram. Essen­tial­ly, the amount of veg­eta­bles, sug­ar, salt and whole grains in school lunch­es was sub­ject to regulation. 

But it’s no easy task to meet nutri­tion chal­lenges while keep­ing chil­dren hap­py with the food options avail­able in pub­lic schools. In Macon, Geor­gia, the Bibb Coun­ty School Dis­trict served up 18,000 lunch­es over the past school year. Their lunch­es are free because enough stu­dents face dif­fi­cul­ties receiv­ing prop­er nutri­tion at home. 

Under the new farm bill, those meals may no longer be free for all students. 

If fam­i­lies in the coun­ty lose their SNAP ben­e­fits, this dis­trict would no longer gain access to fed­er­al pro­grams fund­ing free lunch. 

Like any oth­er pub­lic school dis­trict, Bibb Coun­ty is sub­ject to reg­u­la­tions set by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has made a few recent changes that have been applied to schools that have fund­ing trou­bles. One change that has been made was to delay sodi­um restrictions. 

In the House bill, there have been moves to make changes like these, per­ma­nent. How­ev­er, any changes made in the farm bill must also be backed by research in schools and can­not increase costs of pro­gram­ming. The Sen­ate ver­sion of the bill keeps SNAP require­ments in place. 

Fund­ing will pull away from the Clean Water Rule. | The Pro­gres­sive Farmer

The House bill aims to repeal the 2015 Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency/​Army Corps of Engi­neer rule with­in the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule helps stop pol­lu­tion in U.S. waters and by reclas­si­fy­ing what is con­sid­ered pro­tect­ed fed­er­al waters, which includes wet­lands and small streams. 

For now, the Clean Water Rule will stay in place though the EPA has made moves to try to repeal it. 

As well as defund­ing many con­ser­va­tion efforts. | Civ­il Eats

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has made some effort to inspire farm­ers to take on sus­tain­able prac­tices. The Con­ser­va­tion Stew­ard­ship Pro­gram, is a large part of the effort — reduc­ing pol­lu­tion and runoff on farms. 

The House ver­sion of the 2018 farm bill aims to con­sol­i­date such pro­grams into larg­er plans. The hope is to boost sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives but the new ver­sion of the bill fails to instill com­plete changes pro­tect­ing prop­er envi­ron­men­tal practices. 

Over the next 10 years, $5 bil­lion will be cut from con­ser­va­tion projects. 

The House bill decreas­es its rules on pes­ti­cides. | EcoWatch

Chil­dren, farm­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and endan­gered species could be at risk as pes­ti­cide pro­tec­tions fall away in the House ver­sion of the new farm bill. 

Local gov­ern­ments would be blocked from adopt­ing their own pes­ti­cide reg­u­la­tions, even if it means pro­tect­ing chil­dren. Essen­tial­ly, the com­mu­ni­ties would no longer have the abil­i­ty to cre­ate laws or oth­er pro­tec­tion mea­sures in their com­mu­ni­ties – even in places like play­grounds and schools. Under this pro­pos­al, farm­ers would be able to spray pes­ti­cides direct­ly into drink­ing water supplies. 

Cur­rent­ly, local gov­ern­ing bod­ies can reg­u­late where chem­i­cals are sprayed and farm­ers must gain a per­mit to be able to spray sub­stances into bod­ies of water. With few­er restric­tions and less gov­ern­ment over­sight, pro­tect­ing our drink­ing water could become a dif­fi­cult task. 

Farm bill con­fronts crop insur­ance. | AgriPulse

Sig­nif­i­cant changes are set to impact crop insur­ance pro­grams. Amend­ments in the House farm bill detail a lim­it for crop insur­ance sub­si­dies impact­ing the wealth­i­est farm­ers. Among the many amend­ments pro­posed, some law­mak­ers hope to decrease the tar­get gross rate of return for insur­ance com­pa­nies from 14.5 to 12 per­cent. Anoth­er aims to low­er crop insur­ance pre­mi­um sub­si­dies for insur­ance poli­cies. There has been a pro­pos­al to restrict crop insur­ance sub­si­dies with adjust­ed gross income under $500,000 and to require a pub­lic dis­clo­sure of pre­mi­um subsidies. 

Law­mak­ers hope the var­i­ous amend­ments will save tax­pay­ers more than $490 mil­lion over the next decade. Crit­ics hope to push back on such amend­ments to pro­tect sub­sides already in place. Cur­rent­ly, there are no lim­its on crop insurance. 

Farm bill plows into the Afford­able Care Act. | NPR

The House farm bill has come down hard on the Afford­able Care Act. Under the new bill, farm­ers have the abil­i­ty to buy into health insur­ance plans that are low­er in cost but offer few­er ben­e­fits than the cur­rent plan. 

More than $60 mil­lion in loans and grants will be required to be dis­pensed by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture to help stim­u­late these asso­ci­a­tion health plans.”

The plans would be offered through the work­place or sim­i­lar organizations. 

For the new health insur­ance providers, there would be no require­ment to offer a min­i­mum set of nec­es­sary ben­e­fits such as hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, pre­scrip­tion drugs, and emer­gency care.

Trade pro­tec­tions are ampli­fied in farm bill. | The New Republic

If more export reg­u­la­tion ensues, U.S. farm­ers may wor­ry over a poten­tial retal­i­a­tion on for­eign import tar­iffs decid­ed by Pres­i­dent Trump. Both Sen­ate and House bills sug­gest back­ing exports for spe­cial­ty crops. This could help U.S. farm­ers sell more crops abroad as well as pro­vide a safe­guard against addi­tion­al for­eign imposed tar­iffs. This deci­sion comes as Chi­na sends tar­iffs on soy­beans and poten­tial­ly oth­er U.S. exports. 

Rur­al areas to see more access to inter­net. | Wash­ing­ton Examiner

There has been a push by some law­mak­ers, to require a faster inter­net speed for gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized broad­band inter­net in rur­al areas. Rep. Vicky Hart­zler (R – M.O.) pro­pos­es uti­liz­ing fund­ing from the U.S. Depart­ment of Agriculture’s Rur­al Util­i­ties Ser­vice fund. The min­i­mum down­load speeds would be raised from 4 to 24 megabits per sec­ond and a min­i­mum upload speed of 3 Mbps. 

Organ­ic food stan­dards may change in 2018 farm bill. | Nation­al Devel­op­ment and Reform Com­mis­sion

The House bill includes a new require­ment for the organ­ic indus­try. The Nation­al Organ­ic Stan­dards Board, which decides what sub­stances are allowed to be labeled as organ­ic prod­ucts, must to refer to the FDA and EPA to define label­ing. The funds allot­ted are $11.5 mil­lion. The Nation­al Organ­ic Stan­dards Board is referred to as an inde­pen­dent gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion. Crit­ics say the new require­ment weak­ens organ­ic standards. 

The Sen­ate ver­sion of the bill also includes a revi­sion to the Nation­al Organ­ic Stan­dards Board. In this ver­sion, soil pol­i­cy is the focus and includes a pilot pro­gram with the Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty Incen­tives Pro­gram. The pro­gram pays farm­ers to improve their soil health and mea­sure soil car­bon. It’s one way farm­ers can help fight cli­mate change.

The Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing is a non­prof­it, online news­room offer­ing inves­tiga­tive and enter­prise cov­er­age of agribusi­ness, Big Ag and relat­ed issues through data analy­sis, visu­al­iza­tions, in-depth reports and inter­ac­tive web tools. Vis­it us online at www​.inves​ti​gatemid​west​.org

Kaolin Sewell is a con­tent edi­tor and reporter for the Mid­west Cen­ter for Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing. She grew up in the Chica­go sub­urbs away from farm­land and agri­cul­ture but is excit­ed to gain a new per­spec­tive in her report­ing. Kaolin recent­ly grad­u­at­ed from The Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois and received her mas­ter’s degree in jour­nal­ism from the Col­lege of Media. At Illi­nois, she was the exec­u­tive pro­duc­er for Good Morn­ing Illi­ni, a stu­dent-run morn­ing show and worked for the Dai­ly Illi­ni, stu­dent news­pa­per, cre­at­ing stu­dent guides for var­i­ous Uni­ver­si­ty events.
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