The U.S. Senate today voted to approve the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, a bipartisan Farm Bill authored by Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and Ranking Member Senator Thad Cochran. The bill was approved with broad bipartisan support by a vote of 66-27. The bill, which saves taxpayers more than $24 billion, represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades.
The bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and transitioning to responsible risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars. The Farm Bill also consolidates programs to end duplication and addresses fraud and misuse in nutrition programs. These reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs.
"The Senate today voted to support 16 million American jobs, to save taxpayers billions and to implement the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades," Chairwoman Stabenow said. "By eliminating duplication and streamlining programs, we were able to save $24 billion while strengthening initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart policies that lay the foundation for a stronger economy."
Stabenow continued, "I want to thank my Ranking Member Senator Thad Cochran for his leadership and commitment to bipartisan partnership, and all my colleagues in the Senate for voting on behalf of the 16 million American jobs that rely on a robust, innovative agriculture sector. I look forward to continuing to work in a collaborative and bipartisan way to see that this reform bill is signed into law. There can be no more kicking the can down the road--it's time for Congress to finish its work on the Farm Bill."
To view a copy of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013, please visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website at http://www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill. A section-by-section summary of the bill is also available as well. A short summary of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act is below.
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013
The Senate's bipartisan 2013 Farm Bill represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. With the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, the era of direct payments is over. Instead of subsidies that pay out every year even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control. By ending unnecessary subsidies, streamlining and consolidating programs and cracking down on abuse, the bill reduces the deficit by billions. Passing the Farm Bill will yield a total of $23 billion in cuts to agriculture programs (including cuts made due to the sequester). $23 billion is over double the amount the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission ($10 billion) and Gang of Six ($11 billion) recommended in total agriculture cuts.
Agriculture is a bright spot in America's economy. The Senate's 2013 Farm Bill strengthens top priorities that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create jobs. The current Farm Bill expires September 30th. A new Farm Bill must be passed this year to provide farmers the certainty they need to keep driving our economic recovery.
Sixteen million jobs hang in the balance. Last year's similar Senate Farm Bill passed the Senate with a wide bipartisan vote, 64-35. The Farm Bill is broadly supported by Democrats and Republicans across the country for its major reforms, common sense deficit reduction and strengthened job creation initiatives.
Major Reform: Ending Direct Payments; Creating Responsible Risk Management
Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer's control can have devastating effects. Responsible risk management tools help ensure that farmers -- and farm jobs -- are not wiped out by disasters, and protect all American families from sudden spikes in food prices.
However, for too long farm programs have existed as subsidies that provide payments even when farmers are already doing well. The 2013 Senate Farm Bill reforms farm programs to save taxpayer dollars, while providing farmers with a responsible risk management system that only helps farmers when they experience substantial losses due to events beyond their control. This proposal:
- Eliminates direct payments. Farmers will no longer receive payments when prices are rising and support is not needed. Ending these subsidies and creating responsible risk management is a major shift in American farm policy
- Caps remaining risk management support at $50,000 per person
- Ends Farm Payments to Non-Farmers. This bill closes the "management loophole," through which people who were not actually farming--in many cases not even setting foot on the farm--were designated as farm "managers" so they could receive farm payments
- Requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect both the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation's farmers and ranchers will need for generations to come
- Strengthens crop insurance and expands access so farmers are not wiped out by bad weather
- Includes disaster relief for producers hurt by drought, spring freeze, and other weather disasters
- Reforming farm programs, ending direct payments and implementing market-oriented programs to help farmers manage risk saves $16 billion dollars ($12 billion in the bill, $4 billion through sequestration)
Consolidating and Streamlining Programs
By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, reducing the deficit while strengthening top priorities. The Senate Farm Bill eliminates over 100 programs and authorizations under the Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction. For example:
- The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs--while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife
- Streamlining programs provides added flexibility and focuses conservation around four primary functions: working lands conservation, the Conservation Reserve Program, regional partnerships, and easements to help prevent sprawl and protect wetlands
- These reforms save money while still increasing resources for top priorities
- Because we are truly doing more with less, changes to conservation policies are supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states
Improving Program Accountability
At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need of food assistance for the first time in their lives, it is more critical than ever that every dollar go to families in need. By closing loopholes, cracking down on abuse and improving program integrity, the Farm Bill reduces the deficit without cutting standard benefits or removing any needy family from the program. The Senate Farm Bill increases accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by:
- Stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance
- Preventing states from providing $1 per year in home heating assistance to individuals who do not have a heating bill for the sole purpose of providing extra benefits above what they would normally receive
- Ending misuse by college students whose families are not truly low-income
- Cracking down on retailers and recipients engaged in benefit trafficking
- Increasing requirements to prevent liquor and tobacco stores from accepting food assistance benefits
- The above savings reduce the deficit while continuing support for food banks, seniors' food programs and healthy school lunch initiatives
Continuing Growth in America's Diverse Agricultural Economy
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while still strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives through:
- Export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods
- Help for family farmers to sell locally, increasing support for farmers' markets and spurring the creation of food hubs to connect farmers to schools and other community-based organizations
- Training and access to capital to make it easier for beginning farmers to get off the ground
- Initiatives to help American veterans start agriculture businesses
- Growth in bio-based manufacturing (businesses producing goods in America from raw agricultural products grown in America) to create rural agriculture and urban manufacturing jobs
- Innovation in bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power
- Research to promote the commercialization of new agricultural innovations
- Rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure, extend broadband internet availability and create a better environment for small businesses.