November 17, 2008
URGENT ACTION NEEDED
Tell Congress to Support Emergency Funding for WIC, Rural Development, and Farm Credit in the Stimulus Bill! On Monday, November 17, the lame duck session of Congress will convene. During the short window of time they have left in Washington D.C., Members of Congress may take up a new economic stimulus bill. It is important that the stimulus package include funding for three major issues: 1) emergency funding for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, 2) increased program funding for both direct and guaranteed farm operating loans, and 3) direct and targeted support for rural economic development. Please click here for a full action alert with background information. Calls should be made next week!
Transition Teams Named: On Thursday, the incoming Obama Administration named a 13-member agency review working group with members who will oversee transition work for a cluster of agencies. Covering agriculture, environment, energy, and interior will be David J. Hayes, a noted environmental lawyer with the law firm Latham & Watkins who served as the number two person at Interior during the Clinton Administration. Hayes has associations with both World Wildlife Fund and American Rivers. Also named on Thursday were the transition team chairs for Treasury, State, and Defense.
The USDA Transition Team has not yet been named, although we expect it to be released very soon. Rumors may be circulating, but we will have to just wait and see when it is released.
Plum Book Published: The so-called Plum Book, published every four years and providing a comprehensive listing of all the political appointed positions in the government, was issued on Thursday. The 209-page book lists over 8,000 federal jobs which can be appointed by the incoming Administration. The book includes the name and salary of the existing office holder for the outgoing Administration, and thus also serves as a way for any incoming Administration to determine who it wants to move out of or leave in current positions. The book can be browsed or purchased here.
Transition Treatises Start to Flow: As happens at the start of any new Administration, interest groups and think tanks issue briefing documents with recommendations for the new team in town. The Green Group of major environmental organizations sent in their document on Thursday. The document, which will be publicly released next week, includes a comprehensive climate change proposal, as well as detailed recommendations for USDA conservation programs among many others. Also out Thursday was the huge book length “Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President” from the Center for American Progress, led by now top Obama transition leader and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta.
The deadline for grassroots input for SAC’s briefing packet for the USDA transition team is today, but we will accept late arrivals through early next week. Please download this form with more information about the project and how to send in your ideas.
Meet Some New Members of Congress: With the election results (mostly) finalized, newly elected Members are beginning to express which committees they may be interested in serving on. Here are a few to keep our eyes on, as they have indicated an interest in the running for positions on the agriculture committees.
A reminder, too, that the Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia are still not over, and the final outcome of both will have a major impact on the membership of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Senate: Mike Johanns (R-NE) — After serving two terms as the Governor of Nebraska’s, Johanns served at the helm of USDA until he resigned to run for Senate. Johanns, who grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa, has said that government spending is one of the country’s biggest problems and wants to work to get it under control. He also supports extending the Bush tax cuts.
House: In the House, there will be at least 4 or 5 Democratic Ag Committee seats to fill, and at least 3 or 4 Republican ones.
· Bobby Bright (D-AL, 2nd) — Bright, who campaigned as socially and fiscally conservative, previously served three terms as the Mayor of Montgomery. In a traditionally Republican district, he won with bipartisan support. He also was chief council for the Alabama Department of Corrections and has also expressed interest in serving on the Armed Services committee.
· Aaron Schock (R-IL, 18th) — Schock previously was an Illinois State Representative and the Peoria school board president. He has said he would like to introduce legislation that would increase the blend of ethanol in gasoline.
· Lynn Jenkins (R-KS, 2nd) — Replacing Rep. Nancy Boyda (D) in a conservative-leaning district, Jenkins was previously state treasurer, and has served in the Kansas House and Senate. She highlighted the importance of agriculture, frugal spending, and the armed services to the state of Kansas in her campaign. Although she will likely seek a seat on the House Financial Services Committee, she has also expressed interest in serving on the Agriculture and Armed Services committees.
· Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO, 9th) — Luetkemeyer was the former director of the Missouri Division of Tourism and state Representative. While in the state House, he led the Financial Services committee. He is also interested in serving on the Ways and Means and Financial Services committees.
· Eric Massa (D-NY, 29th) — Massa previously worked as a Republican staffer with the House Armed Services committee, before leaving to work on the presidential nomination campaign of Gen. Wesley Clark. In addition to being interesting in serving on the Agriculture Committee, he would seek a return engagement on Armed Services. He has pledged to fight the national debt.
· Kurt Schrader (D-OR, 5th) — Schrader has been in the state Senate since 2003, where he co-chaired the Joint Ways and Means Committee and chaired the Interim Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Prior to his time at the Senate, he was in the Oregon House of Representatives. Schrader, an organic farmer, has not yet said which committees he would like to serve on, but his top priorities include economic recovery, investing in infrastructure, supporting education, and reforming health care.
A Strategy for Dealing with Bush’s Midnight Legislation: Congressional Democrats are looking at a little known piece of legislation, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, as a way to overturn last minute attempts of the Bush Administration to further advance their policies. This law contains a clause stating that any regulation finalized within 60 days of the end of the congressional session (October 3, 2008 in this case), is considered legally finalized as of January 15, 2009. The new Congress then has 60 days to review it and vote on a resolution. With the Democratic- controlled Congress, a party line vote has the potential to repeal a number of Bush’s late regulations.
Although Democrats have not yet reached a decision if they will seek out the CRA, it is being considered as an option as concerns loom over the otherwise lengthy process of undoing regulations made by the previous Administration. According to a spokesperson for House Global Warming Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D- Mass), the CRA may have particular importance for any regulations passed at the midnight hour that would “have a detrimental effect on energy and environmental policies.” The complete article can be read here.
SAC Submits Comments on Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: This week, SAC submitted comments to the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES) of USDA on implementation of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). SAC and its members successfully won $78 million for the BFRDP over the next five years to provide training and mentoring programs for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Conservation Compliance Changes Implemented: Last week on November 6, USDA’s Farm Service Agency issued guidance to state and county offices on the implementation of farm bill’s improvements to conservation compliance rules regulating highly erodible land. SAC worked hard to make sure that these improvements were included in the 2008 Farm Bill. Good faith exemptions and mitigation plans must now be approved at the state level by FSA with the concurrence of the State Conservationist. The notice also details the new graduated penalty rates for violations of conservation compliance plans, with the rates determined by the number of acres in violation, the erodibility index for those acres, and the actual amount of soil loss. The minimum penalty is $1,000 and the maximum is $10,000. A 20 percent penalty surcharge applies to land that has been sodbusted (converted from native vegetation to cropland). For more details, see www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_Notice/cp_638.pdf.
Emergency Conservation Money Distributed: On Thursday, USDA announced the release of $77 million in Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) funds to repair farmland damaged by natural disasters earlier this year. To qualify for funding, the damage must affect the land’s productive capacity, must be unusual damage that does not recur frequently, and must be costly enough to require assistance. A list of counties and associated disasters is on FSA’s Web site. Additional ECP allocations may be made later this fiscal year.
Changes in WIC FMNP Rules: On November 3 2008, USDA announced an interim final rule amending the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). The changes, which were mandated in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, include the option to authorize roadside stands, a reduction in the required amount of state matching funds, and an increase in the maximum Federal benefit level. Although these provisions are not discretionary, USDA issued the regulations as an interim final rule, allowing comments to be made through January 2, 2009. For more details, please see the e-docket.
Family Farm Web Forum on Local Food Systems: A webinar will be held on Tuesday, November 18th, 2 – 3.30 pm Eastern time on the topic of local food systems, including some information on CSREES funding opportunities. To participate, log on to http://connect.extension.iastate.edu/csrees/ a few minutes before 2 pm on November 18th . Please note: Flashware software version 9 or better (available for free download) and a DSL / Cable line (or better) internet connection are required.
USDA Corrects Eligibility for National Organic Cost Share Certification: On Monday, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing System (AMS) announced a correction to the Notice of Funding Availability for the National Organic Cost Share Certification Program, which was issued on September 22. The correction provides that cost-share assistance through participating States is available to organic producers and handlers receiving certification or continuation of certification by a USDA-accredited certifying agent commencing October 1, 2007, rather than the originally announced October 1, 2008. This action will make funds available to a greater number of eligible persons and achieve Congress’ intent that use of National Organic Certification Cost-Share Funds provided in the 2008 Farm Bill begins with FY2008. The 2008 Farm Bill provides the program with a total of $22 million. Funds are available to interested States to assist organic producers and handlers certified under the National Organic Program (NOP). Interested states should submit a signed, amended cooperative agreement (provided by AMS) by December 26, 2008. A copy of the correction is posted at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-26661.htm.
First Entry in SAC’s “Notes from the Field”: SAC’s new website is up and so is our new blog “Something to Crow About.” One of the regular features of the blog will be stories written by representatives from SAC’s grassroots member organizations and farmers about how federal farm programs work on the ground. This week, Katie Wied, Policy Organizer from the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute of Wisconsin, writes about the recent on-farm field days she has helped organize around the Conservation Stewardship Program. Check it out!
Categories: General Interest
I wrote a similar blog on this subject but you nailed it here.