Legislative Action News, August 7, 2012

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House Passes Livestock Disaster Assistance
By Stephen Frerichs

Before leaving town for a five week summer district work period, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill to provide emergency livestock disaster assistance by a vote of 223-197. The vote culminated a chaotic week which started out with the House attempting to vote for a one-year extension of the farm bill (see next story).  Forty-six Republicans voted against the bill, while 35 Democrats voted for it, in an otherwise party-line vote.  If you’d like to see how your Representative voted, please check here: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2012/roll554.xml

The Senate did not take up the House disaster bill before starting its summer recess.

The disaster bill provides funding for the livestock indemnity program, the livestock forage program and the tree assistance program totaling $383 million in assistance.  The cost of the bill was offset with cuts in FY 2013 in the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program totaling $639 million.

House Leaders Refuse to Consider Farm Bill
By Stephen Frerichs

House Republican Leaders (Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA)) did not allow the House to consider the House Agriculture Committee passed farm bill before leaving for recess.  Essentially, they believed the votes weren’t there to pass the bill.  The Speaker is quoted as saying: “Frankly, I haven’t seen 218 votes in the middle to pass a farm bill.”  The cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) remain the problem with most Republicans wanting additional cuts and most Democrats opposed to nearly all cuts

Early last week, the House leaders attempted to bring a one-year extension farm bill to the floor, but that bill was pulled from consideration amidst strong opposition from farm and environmental groups who want a 5-year bill.  So the leaders tried to pass a livestock disaster bill on the Suspension Calendar, which would have required two-thirds majority vote for passage. That effort was pulled and ultimately the livestock disaster bill was considered by the full House under simple majority rules and narrowly passed (See disaster story).

The ongoing intensity of the drought could force the House to consider a 5-year farm bill in September. But given the SNAP problem, the short period of time Congress is actually in session in September, and the need to consider other pressing issues, it seems unlikely the House will consider the farm bill prior to the election.  The bill could still be considered during a lame-duck session after the election and combined with other “must pass” legislation that the lame-duck session must address.

Drought Assistance
By Stephen Frerichs

Absent Congressional action, USDA is maximizing its existing authority to help farmers suffering from one of the worst droughts on record.  USDA has designated over one-half of the counties in the U.S. as natural disaster areas which opens up USDA assistance.  In addition, USDA has:

• Allowed additional acres under CRP to be used for emergency haying or grazing. The action allows lands that are not yet classified as “under severe drought” but that are “abnormally dry” to be used for haying and grazing.
• Allowed producers to modify current Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contracts to allow for grazing, livestock watering, and other conservation activities to address drought conditions.
• Authorized haying and grazing of Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easement areas in drought-affected areas where haying and grazing is consistent with conservation of wildlife habitat and wetlands. USDA has expedited its authorization process for this haying and grazing.
• Allowed crop insurance companies to provide a 30 day grace period for farmers to pay premiums without
incurring an interest penalty. If premiums aren’t paid by the end of the 30 day grace period, interest will be owed from the policy billing date.
• Reduced the emergency loan interest rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent.
• Lowered the reduction in the annual rental payment to producers on CRP acres used for emergency haying or grazing from 25 percent to 10 percent in 2012.
• Simplified the Secretarial disaster designation process and reduced the time it takes to designate counties affected by disasters by 40 percent.

Secretary Vilsack Addresses Midwest Drought in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack shared insights into the policy changes being implemented to address the Midwest drought with attendees at a Hertz Farm Management Landowner Seminar in Cedar Rapids, Iowa recently. The Secretary related the details of how the USDA is addressing the needs of livestock and grain farmers as the heat and lack of rainfall continue to cause economic hardships throughout the country.

AFBF: Report shows real harm of estate taxes
From the American Farm Bureau Federation

The American Farm Bureau Federation says it concurs with a Joint Economic Committee report that details the financial harm posed by estate taxes on family businesses.

The JEC, a bipartisan committee composed of members from the House and Senate, issued its report, “Costs and Consequences of the Federal Estate Tax,” Wednesday. Read more on the Southeast Farm Press website: http://southeastfarmpress.com/government/afbf-report-shows-real-harm-estate-taxes?NL=SEFP-01&Issue=SEFP-01_20120731_SEFP-01_983&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1329307

USDA’s APHIS removes trade barriers, expands market access for U.S. farm exports

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has worked in conjunction with federal, international and industry partners to arrange for the release of 209 shipments of American products valued at more than $39 million in 2012. The goods had been detained at foreign ports of entry pending resolution of various animal and plant health questions. Read more on the Delta Farm Press website: http://deltafarmpress.com/markets/usda-s-aphis-removes-trade-barriers-expands-market-access-us-farm-exports?NL=DFP-01&Issue=DFP-01_20120803_DFP-01_976&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1330149

California water system gets rigorous environmental review

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eric Schwaab outlined revisions to the proposed Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) that, along with a full range of alternative proposals, will undergo a rigorous public environmental review in the coming months. In announcing the path forward for an enhanced BDCP process, the officials emphasized that California’s water system is unsustainable from an environmental and economic perspective, and that the BDCP is a key part of a comprehensive solution to achieve the dual goals of a reliable water supply for California and a healthy California Bay Delta ecosystem that supports the State’s economy.  Read more on the Western Farm Press website: http://westernfarmpress.com/government/california-water-system-gets-rigorous-environmental-review?NL=WFP-01&Issue=WFP-01_20120726_WFP-01_49&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1328419

ASFMRA Asks HUD to Withdraw Section 8 Provision Eliminating Appraisals
By Bill Garber

The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers and the Appraisal Institute issued a comment letter July 16 in response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposed rule on regulatory changes to their Section 8 Voucher Program.
The rule proposes to eliminate an existing requirement that an appraisal be used to determine initial rent contracts to a Section 8 building owner. HUD cited a “lack of availability of state-certified appraisers” and “increased expenses in order to acquire state-certified appraisers” as the reasons for eliminating the appraisal requirement.
In their joint letter, AI and ASFMRA asked HUD to withdraw the provision that would eliminate the requirement for a real estate appraisal, and criticized the agency for claiming that there aren’t enough state-certified appraisers without citing any research to support that claim.
The letter stated that “contrary to the proposed rule, there is a sufficient supply of state-certified appraisers fully capable of offering cost-effective services in support of the Section 8 program … as of Dec. 31, 2011, the number of active real estate appraisers in the U.S. stood at 86,800. Of this number, approximately 30 percent, or 26,000, are classified as Certified General Real Property Appraisers.”
Similarly, the letter noted that HUD has not provided any research to support its contention that an alleged shortage of appraisers has led to increased costs or project delays related to appraisals. AI and ASFMRA challenged this assertion in their letter, stating “our research indicates that turnaround times for appraisals have remained relatively constant in recent years. Turnaround times are a function of the scope of work of the appraisal assignment, but our members have not reported any increase in the number of days it takes to complete an appraisal. Further, our members actually have reported declines in appraisal fees in recent years.” 

Read the comment letter: http://www.appraisalinstitute.org/newsadvocacy/downloads/ltrs_tstmny/2012/AI-ASFMRA_on_HUD_Section8Vouchers_7_16_Final.pdf

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