Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Senate Markup – Local Food and Rural Development
May 1st, 2012
Note to Readers — This is the eighth in a series of posts on the 2012 Farm Bill reported out of the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 26.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act — the proposed name for the 2012 Farm Bill — out of Committee on Thursday, April 26. The markup and negotiations that immediately preceded the markup resulted in some improvements in the bill for local food systems and rural development, though there is still work to be done to ensure the final bill fully captures the economic opportunities to be gained in these areas of our nation’s agriculture and food policy.
What follows is a breakdown of provisions offered last week that were (and were not) included in the Farm Bill that emerged out of the Senate Committee markup. A previous blog post on local food and rural development summarizes the provisions as presented in the original draft bill that was released on Friday, April 20. We will not repeat that information here, but refer interested readers back to the earlier post. This post focuses on changes adopted immediately before or in the Committee markup.
Two amendments were filed that could have bolstered opportunities for schools and other institutions to procure food from local farmers and ranchers. The first was filed by Sen. Brown (D-OH), the Senate lead sponsor of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act (S. 1773). The second was filed by Sens. Casey (D-PA) and Leahy (D-VT). Ultimately, neither of these amendments were offered during markup. NSAC will continue to pursue Farm to School provisions during the Senate floor process and on the House side.
Thanks to an amendment offered by Sen. Leahy and passed out of committee, the bill now includes a provision that would make it easier for SNAP recipients to participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. NSAC supports this provision and will advocate for it to remain in the final Farm Bill.
Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) championed a new program, with a total of $100 million in mandatory funding over five years, to encourage purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP consumers at retail outlets, including farmers markets. The grants are modeled after the successful work of Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program.
Also noteworthy is the addition of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) – it was not in the original bill presented on April 20 but was included in the revised version on April 25 and included in the bill voted out of committee. The initiative, which aims to improve access to healthy food in low-income communities, is authorized to receive up to $125 million (no time period is provided for) in discretionary funding through the annual appropriations process.
Rural Development Title
As our earlier post noted, the original bill did not include any mandatory funding for the Rural Development Title. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Sen. Brown and others, this sobering fact did not change during the markup process. The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) remain without any mandatory funding.
Brown did offer an amendment to put $25 million each into these two programs plus $100 million to fund water and wastewater projects. He withdrew the amendment when it was not clear whether $150 million in mandatory funding was still available, given the changes made to the overall bill during markup, above the net $23 billion savings figure the Committee agreed to save over the next decade relative to current law. Chairwoman Stabenow indicated her support for the Brown amendment, which will re-emerge in some form when the bill comes to the Senate floor.
No-cost policy changes proposed in the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act to strengthen and improve a variety of rural development programs were not included in the Senate Committee bill. The same holds true for the research and extension title.