While farm groups from across the nation rallied on Capitol Hill today in support of a new farm bill, U.S. Rep. Timothy V. Johnson urged House leadership to move the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act to a full House vote.
The FARRM Act was passed in July by the House Agriculture Committee with a large bipartisan majority but has stalled since, leaving drought relief, safety net policies and food stamp reform unaddressed.
The five-year FARRM Act saves more than $35 billion by eliminating direct payments and streamlining commodity policy. Another $16 billion in savings comes from reforms in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
"Farm policies as we know them end when the current farm bill expires Sept. 30," Rep. Johnson said. "If instead we pass a stopgap spending measure, nothing changes. Farm policies expire, food stamp reforms will not occur and the gridlock and spending continues.
"The FARRM Act is the result of years of work, study and serious involvement by a spectrum of interested constituencies. Now that work, those compromises, are threatened in a political stalemate that hurts us all. Interim disaster aid packages are also stuck in mud, leaving producers no relief from damage from the summer drought.
"I've been travelling my district of Central Illinois throughout the August recess meeting with farmers and citizens in our farming communities and they know their economies pivot on the success of agriculture. They're looking for certainty and we're not giving it to them. There is no good reason we can't get this legislation acted on by the end of this month."
Rep. Johnson is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture. As such, he was instrumental in the development of parts of the FARRM Act involving rural development programs, biotechnology research and conservation. In particular, the bill creates a Regional Conservation Partnership program, a competitive grant-based program that allows private organizations, producers and land-grant universities to pool resources to mitigate environmental degradation of farming in specific regions such as the Upper Mississippi River.
Rep. Johnson also introduced a new provisioin in the bill that allows Farmers Markets to deflect 100 percent of the cost of EBT Card Readers, which will allow food-stamp recipients to use their SNAP cards at Farmers Markets that were previously unavailable to them. This will increase local buying, local consuming, better nutrition and better health. The provision also expands access to fresh fruits and vegetables through a coupon program that doubles buying power when shopping at local Farmers Markets.
The farm group rallies in Washington, D.C. today coincided with Rep. Johnson being awarded the American Farm Bureau's Friend of Farmer Award.
"I am truly honored by this recognition. It comes from my friends and the people who best understand how critical this legislation is. I will do my best in the time I have left drive this legislation through," Rep. Johnson said.