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Congressional Ag Chairs Release Dueling Farm Bill Proposals. What Happens Next?

   

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After months (and months and months) of anticipation, we are finally seeing some forward movement on a new food and farm bill. 

On May 1, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow of Michigan released a detailed, 94-page framework laying out her committee’s priorities for the bill. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, House Agriculture Chair G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania released a 5-page overview of the House’s proposed food and farm bill. Although the two proposals were released on the same day (making for a very busy 24 hours for UCS’s food policy team!), their contents differ in several key ways.

So, what’s in each proposal?  And what’s next for the food and farm bill?

Although the House bill framework is relatively brief, it does provide some details about what to expect from their forthcoming bill. Unfortunately, it seems much of it isn’t good news for those of us concerned about racial justice and equity, the people who tend, harvest and serve our food, and protecting our climate.

Conservation: The House framework proposes moving conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into the food and farm bill.  However, the framework does not include the climate guardrails originally included in the IRA, which required that conservation funding in the bill be dedicated to climate-smart agriculture. Instead, funding, which was originally intended to help make farmers more resilient in the face of extreme weather and a greater part of the climate solution, could go to practices with no proven climate benefit. Given the huge challenges farmers are facing due to drought, flooding, and other impacts of climate change on their lands, such a lack of climate safeguards for this funding would be extremely harmful.
Nutrition: The House framework appears likely to change how benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are calculated in the future. Instead of being able to make future changes to the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which determines SNAP benefits, based on new scientific evidence and evolving dietary guidelines, the House proposal could potentially restrict such changes. Food assistance must keep pace with the true cost of a nutritious diet.
Research, equity, and food and farmworkers: The framework mentions increased funding for specialty crop research, and it would continue funding scholarships at 1890s institutions—historically Black colleges in the U.S. land-grant university system— but there is no reference to protections for food and farmworkers in the House framework.

The Senate proposal, in contrast, is not only far more detailed than the House version, but it includes many of UCS’s key food and farm bill priorities, particularly around climate, conservation, nutrition, research, equity, and food and farmworker protections. 

Below are a few key highlights from the Senate proposal.

Conservation and climate. Great news!—as Chairwoman Stabenow has long promised, the Senate proposal would move IRA conservation funding into the food and farm bill, and crucially, keep the climate guardrails from the IRA in place to ensure this money is used for climate-smart programming. This is a key UCS priority for the food and farm bill, and we’re thrilled to see it included as a basis for the Senate proposal. The Senate proposal would also add new focus on reducing methane within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); add a new goal of addressing the climate crisis to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); and add new focus to the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) on helping farmers make their farms more resilient to climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and building soil health.
Nutrition. The Senate proposal ensures that the Thrifty Food Plan would continue to be updated every five years, based on scientific and dietary guidelines, to ensure a realistic and healthy diet for those utilizing food assistance. The Senate proposal also increases funding and expands the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which incentivizes purchase of food and vegetables by low-income consumers, so that more communities can access fruits and vegetables. It also increases the federal match for GusNIP projects from 50% to 80%.
Equity. The Senate proposal would include funding specifically for legal work to resolve heirs’ property issues; permanently fund scholarships for students at 1890s institutions for the first time; and increase funding authorization for 1890s institutions by adding four new Centers of Excellence, including a center focusing on climate change.
Food and Farmworker Protections. The Senate proposal expands the duties of the Farmworker Coordinator position. Additionally, the proposal requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a Farmworker and Food System Worker Advisory Committee, with a membership drawn from farmworkers and food system workers and related organizations. This committee would advise the Secretary on how to improve farmworker and food system worker safety. 
Research. The Senate food and farm bill proposal delivers on a key UCS priority by permanently authorizing the USDA climate hub network, and providing $50 million in funding for the hubs.

The Senate proposal includes content from a number of key marker bills supported by UCS in areas such as climate, nutrition, and food and farmworker protections—for example, the Agriculture Resilience Act and the Voice for Farm Workers Act. 

Last December, UCS and more than 100 other organizations sent a letter to Chairwoman Stabenow and Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Boozman urging these bills be included in the Senate food and farm bill text. It’s great to see that Chairwoman Stabenow has incorporated these ideas into the Senate food and farm bill framework.

While both the House and Senate released their blueprints for food and farm bill legislation on the same day, the House will go first in introducing and voting on legislation. Chairman Thompson has announced that House legislation will be “marked up,” or voted on by the House Agriculture committee, on Thursday, May 23, and that the official bill will be released a few days in advance of the vote.

The Senate’s timeline is less clear. It’s possible we may see a Senate bill introduced later this year based on the framework Senator Stabenow shared last week, but the specific timing remains uncertain. In the meantime, all eyes are now on the House Agriculture Committee as we await the release of their 2024 food and farm bill.

UCS will keep monitoring the House Agriculture committee over the next few weeks as the food and farm bill committee vote approaches. In the meantime, now is a great time to reach out to your House and Senate representatives and urge them to support a food and farm bill that prioritizes climate-smart agriculture, nutrition, research, equity, local foods, and food and farmworker protections!

See our statement on the House and Senate food and farm bill frameworks here.

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