2023 Farm Bill – Supporting Agriculture and Food Programs for Years to Come
By Amy Kirschbaum and Shirley Speidell | Strategics Consulting
This Washington Watch article has been updated as of September 2023.
The Farm Bill is currently up for reauthorization in Congress. This multiyear legislation is the primary vehicle under which Congress governs an array of agriculture and food programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This legislation sets policy related to many topics of interest to NCACC like food nutrition programs, broadband, rural development, and conservation programs.
Last authorized for five years, the 2018 Farm Bill (also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) was passed with bipartisan support and authorized $428.3 billion. The 2018 Farm Bill expires September 30, 2023. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the 2023 Farm Bill will exceed $1 trillion in program funding (approximately $1.295 trillion over 10 years). Because nearly one-third of the current Members of Congress have been newly elected since the 2018 Farm Bill passed, the 2023 Farm Bill is their first time deliberating on this major piece of legislation.
Since 1933, the Farm Bill has been enacted 19 times with bipartisan support. Containing both mandatory and discretionary spending, the Farm Bill has tremendous impact on rural and urban communities, farming livelihoods, and food economies, which affect local and regional economic growth as well as the environment and public health.
There are 12 titles in the Farm Bill, each containing its own programs and policies. The largest is the Nutrition Title, which alone accounts for 76% (in 2018) to 80% (projected in 2023) of the bill’s spending, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). North Carolina is one of 10 states that delegates SNAP administration to counties. According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, in North Carolina in 2022, SNAP served 15% of the population. The national average was 12%. Overall, federal nutrition programs serve about 1 in 4 Americans.
This year, there will likely be discussion about the SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) program provision. SNAP E&T allows SNAP recipients to get employment training, and provides childcare, transportation, and a clothing allowance as participants seek employment.
The Nutrition Title also includes programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Community Food Projects, Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), and the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grants. The GusNIP Nutrition Incentive Program and the GusNIP Produce Prescription Program are designed to encourage families and individuals to eat more healthfully by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the Nutrition Title programs are mandatory spending, while some are discretionary spending.
The Rural Development Title significantly impacts many counties across North Carolina. It provides assistance for housing, electrical generation and transmission, broadband, water and wastewater, and more. In fact, the USDA Rural Development, with primary federal statutory responsibility for rural development, has the largest number of programs providing assistance to rural areas.
The 2018 Farm Bill included new rural development programs like access to high-speed broadband, reauthorization of the Community Connect Broadband Program, and direction for the USDA to coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for assessment and mapping capabilities.
Another title, Conservation, focuses on encouraging farmers and ranchers to voluntarily implement resource-conserving practices on private land. This is done through the provision of financial and technical assistance so that farmers and ranchers can proactively manage water and soil quality, improve wildlife habitat and enhance carbon sequestration. Of the mandatory funding required in the 2018 Farm Bill, conservation programs equaled about 7% of the bill’s total over 10 years. The primary conservation programs in the Farm Bill are: The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). One unique challenge that Congress must address in this cycle will be formulating the funding levels for each of the Farm Bill titles due to the billions for Farm Bill programs included in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Many programs like rural development, forestry, conservation and environmental programs, energy and drought initiatives, and new technical assistance received significant funding through the IRA. Of the overall $40 billion provided by the IRA for Farm Bill programs, $19.5 billion was directed to the programs that address climate change.
Another challenge for Congress will be the likely contentious debate over SNAP provisions following passage of the debt ceiling law in June which includes new work requirements for some of those receiving nutrition assistance. Due to both the new debt ceiling law and IRA provisions, consideration of the bill may extend longer than originally anticipated, and Congress may opt to pass a short-term extension of the current Farm Bill to provide continuation of vital services beyond the statutory September 30th deadline.
Currently, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are holding a series of public hearings, including a recent House hearing focusing on certain aspects of SNAP. When each chamber completes its hearing process, their respective committees will draft, debate and pass their version of the Farm Bill through their agriculture committees. Following debates and votes of the full House and Senate, the two versions of bill will be reconciled in a conference committee. A final version must then pass the House and Senate before going to the President to be signed into law.
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