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After years of discussion and debate the House and Senate both passed versions of the 2018 Farm Bill earlier this summer.

Now those two bodies have to come up with a coordinated version of the bill to send to President Trump for approval.

Debate over immigration is one of those key issues, and in fact that very topic stalled the Farm Bill in the House before a couple of tweaks and a re-vote led to a narrow victory in late June.

It’s been an arduous road. No one has gotten everything they wanted. But everybody’s gotten something.

So just what did the produce industry get out of it all? It’s hard to winnow it down on your own.

Fortunately, Dr. Bob Whitaker, Chief Science & Technology Officer of the DC-based Produce Marketing Association (PMA), has taken the guesswork out of the process.

Here Whitaker highlights key considerations of the Farm Bill and immigration issues and how they will impact the produce industry.

U.S. House Completes Consideration of Second Immigration Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives on June 27 rejected a broad “consensus” immigration bill. The bill would have provided a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and $25 billion for border security.

House Republican lawmakers pushed to include a requirement for employers to electronically check the immigration status of workers and another that would overhaul the current guest worker program.

House negotiators initially incorporated provisions of the AG Act, an immigration reform bill aimed at addressing the agriculture industry’s interests, in the consensus bill to attract additional votes. Some organizations – including some produce interests – expressed concerns with the AG Act.

The AG Act would have authorized a new H-2C agricultural guestworker program that would provide three-year visas, increase the standard visa to for seasonal workers to 24 months, and provide limited liability protection for farmers and workers. However, the AG Act was not included in the final immigration package.

The recent vote capped a month of Republican efforts to pass wide-ranging immigration legislation. It’s still possible that House members could reconsider the idea of using a discharge petition to force votes on immigration bills. However, given the obscure legislative process, they needed to rally 218 signatures by July 10 – a threshold that neither of the immigration bills considered in recent weeks could reach.

Instead, leadership will likely take up a narrow bill to address family separation, asylum, and immigration judges. The fate of such a bill in the Senate is unclear.

U.S. Senate Advances Farm Bill

Just a week after the U.S. House of Representatives gave final approval to its version of the 2018 Farm Bill, on June 28, the U.S. Senate approved its version of the legislation by a vote of 81-11. The next step in the legislative process will be a conference committee to resolve differences between the respective versions of the bill adopted by the House and Senate.

Key produce industry priorities in each bill are:

Issue House  Senate
Trade Promotion Programs Minimum annual funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) at $200 million, the Foreign Market Development Program at $34.5 million and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) at $9 million. Minimum annual funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) at $200 million, the Foreign Market Development Program at $34.5 million and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) at $9 million.
Specialty Crop Research Initiative $80 million per year, includes $25 million for citrus disease research $80 million per year
Specialty Crop Block Grants $85 million per year $85 million per year
APHIS Pest and Disease Programs $75 million per year, including $5 million for National Clean Plant Network $75 million per year, including $5 million for National Clean Plant Network
Emergency Citrus Disease Trust Fund See Specialty Crop Research Initiative $125 million over 5 years
Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI) $285 million over 5 years $250 million over 5 years

 

Both bills also direct the Secretary of Agriculture to prioritize research on mechanization for specialty crop production and processing. Additionally, both bills contain provisions aimed at improving the Federal Crop Insurance program for specialty crop producers.

SNAP Work Requirements Will Likely Strengthen

The same amount of funding is expended in both bills over the 5 years covered by each. One of the biggest obstacles to reaching agreement on a final bill will be addressing the changes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that the House of Representatives included, particularly those to strengthen the work requirements which apply to working age (18-59), able-bodied individuals without dependents to continue receiving SNAP benefits.

While the Senate also addresses work requirements, it does not do so in the same manner. Some nutrition advocacy groups have come out in opposition to the House provisions, in large part leading to the opposition to the bill by all House Democrats. Resolving these issues in a manner which results in a conference agreement which can satisfy conservatives in the House while still garnering enough votes in the Senate will be a challenge for Agriculture Committee leaders from both sides of the Capitol.

Trump Proposes Government Reorganization

President Trump proposed a major reorganization of U.S. government programs and functions on June 21. The plan would significantly revamp several cabinet agencies and departments.

Important to the produce and floral industries, the proposal would move the food safety functions of the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, combining it with the Food Safety and Inspection Service to create the new Federal Food Safety Agency with consolidated responsibility for the safety of virtually all foods.

The proposal would also move the non-commodity nutrition assistance programs currently in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service into the Department of Health and Human Services—which will be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare.

The functions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be reassigned to the Department of Transportation for navigation and the Department of Interior for water supply.

There have been proposals by previous Presidential administrations, as well as bills introduced in Congress, to reorganize federal agencies. These proposals have failed due to a variety of reasons, including labor union opposition, constituencies, and internal turf battles in Congress.

It is difficult to see how President Trump accomplishes this task without investing significant personal political capital in the effort, which he has thus far chosen to expend elsewhere.

More details on the President’s proposal may be found here.

 

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