Farm Bill Update
The Farm Bill is a major piece of legislation that Congress takes up every five years to set our nation’s policy on farming, ranching, nutrition programs, forestry, bio-energy, and rural development. The last Farm bill, passed in 2008, is set to expire on September 30 of this year. The bill authorizes a variety of programs ranging from food stamps to commodity insurance to biofuel subsidies. One of the most important sections of the bill for small towns is the Rural Development Title. The RD Title establishes most of the non-housing programs at USDA’s Rural Development agency, including loans and grants for water/wastewater, loans and grants for essential community facilities (courthouses, fire stations, etc.), rural business programs, and rural broadband loans and grants.
Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 64-35 (to see how your Senators voted, visit: http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=112&session=2&vote=00164). The Senate version reauthorized many of the Rural Development programs that benefit the communities with which MAP and the rest of the RCAP network partner. Specifically, it reauthorized the water and wastewater programs that finance small water or sewer system upgrades and improvements. It also reauthorized the technical assistance and training programs that allow organizations like MAP and the RCAP network to continue to work with small communities to address their water and wastewater needs. In addition, for the first time, the bill would allow technical assistance providers to work with communities enrolled in the Essential Community Facilities Program. The bill also streamlines a number of programs at RD to make applying for assistance more efficient and effective. Finally, the bill provides $50 million dollars over the next four years to help reduce the backlog of pending applications at RD’s water/waste program office. Despite this funding, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the total Farm Bill will save the federal government more than $23 billion over the next 10 years. Much of the savings comes through reforms to the federal crop subsidy programs and changes to the food stamp program.
Now that the bill has made its way through the Senate, it must proceed to the House of Representatives, where debate is set to begin on July 11. If the House can pass its version of the bill this summer, the two chambers will meet to reconcile the differences between their respective bills, and then send it to President Obama’s desk for his signature. The RCAP network will be closely monitoring the bill as it makes its way through the House to ensure that it continues to serve the needs of rural communities across the nation.