Despite new year, farm bill still waits to pass
House, Senate unable to agree on SNAP program cuts
MORRIS – It may be 2014, but the 2013 farm bill is yet to go into effect, awaiting passage from Congress.
The farm bill is a far-reaching piece of legislation that is passed about every five years.
The bill allots funding for several agricultural programs, as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – more commonly known as food stamps – and this month marks more than a year of debate.
Until the 2013 version is agreed upon, the 2008 farm bill is still in effect and farmers are left waiting.
“Basically, there was discrepancies between what the House passed and what the Senate passed,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon. “One of the biggest differences was in the food stamps reform, but they seem to have found a middle ground.”
The Senate would cut about $17.9 billion from the SNAP program over the next 10 years in their version of the farm bill, and the House would cut about $51.9 billion in their version, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.
This $34 billion discrepancy is the main reason the farm bill has yet to pass, Kinzinger said.
“It’s Washington D.C., so sometimes little things can come up and sink a whole project,” Kinzinger said. “But I’m optimistic that despite some of the turmoil in D.C., that we will get this bi-partisan bill passed.”
While congress debates SNAP spending, farmers are left feeling uneasy, worrying about the future of some of the most widely relied upon agriculture programs.
“It’s the uncertainty and not knowing what is going to be cut and what’s going to be kept,” said Steve Kodat, president of the Grundy County Farm Bureau. “That’s the question that is hanging over us.”
One issue the House and Senate agreed upon was the elimination of direct payments to farmers and an expansion of the crop insurance program. Direct payments are subsidies given to farmers and farmland owners whether they grow crops or not.
“The direct payments will be cut, but the ag community and frankly, Democrats and Republicans, both agree that those had their day, but are not needed anymore,” Kinzinger said.
Still, since 2008, Grundy County farmers received an average of $3.4 million a year in direct payments, said Ron Burlington of the Grundy County Farm Service Agency.
“With the direct payments, I’m not too worried. We’ve never relied on those as part of our budgeting process,” Kodat said. “All of the farmers I’ve talked to from Grundy have crop insurance.”
With the elimination of direct payments, the House and Senate agreed that funding for the crop insurance program should increase by about $5 billion during the next ten years.
The crop insurance program began in the 1930s but has grown exponentially in the last 10 years with more farmers enrolling as more types of crops are insured.
Crop insurance insures farmers protecting against any losses that may occur because of factors outside of the farmers control, like extreme weather.
Farmers pay a premium to private insurance companies to have the insurance.
The insurance plans are developed with input from the USDA Risk Management Agency.
“It’s just too expensive to farm these days without having some kind of insurance. There’s too much risk,” Burlington said.
Crop insurance premiums are heavily subsidized with taxpayer money and may be even more so with the passage of the new farm bill.
“Right now, it’s roughly a 60 [for taxpayers] to 40 [for farmers] breakdown,” said John Shea, director of public affairs for the federal USDA Risk Management Agency.
According to data from the Congressional Research Office, U.S. taxpayers spent about $14 billion on the crop insurance program in 2012 alone.
Kodat said without a new farm bill detailing what the crop insurance program and other price supports will look like, farmers are unable to develop a business plan for the coming planting year.
“At this point, I’m optimistic that we’re going to get this done, and we’re going to get it done hopefully pretty quick after we get back into session,” Kinzinger said. “I would think we’ll have it passed by the end of January, but it’s Washington so you never know.”
By the Numbers
$17.9 billion – How much Senate would cut from food stamp program over the next 10 years
$51.9 billion – How much House would cut from food stamp program over the next 10 years
$0 – How much will be paid to farmers in direct payments when the new bill goes into effect
$5 billion – How much crop insurance funding will increase over the next 10 years
1 month – How long U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger expects before the new farm bill is passed