On April 12, 2018, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway
(R-TX) introduced HR 2, the “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018” (the “2018 House Farm Bill”), which would reauthorize the Farm Bill, one of the United States’ largest pieces of domestic legislation enacted by Congress every five years. The Farm Bill authorizes United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and covers a variety of issues, including: (1) commodities; (2) conservation; (3) trade; (4) nutrition;
(5) credit; (6) rural development; (7) research; (8) forestry; (9) energy; (10) horticulture; and (11) crop insurance. As all of these issues touch on important aspects of Indian Country and quality of life for Native people, we encourage tribes to engage with Congress on the Farm Bill reauthorization.
Congress last enacted a Farm Bill in 2014, and many of those provisions will expire on September 30, 2018. The likelihood for a reauthorization of the Farm Bill in the 115th Congress is unclear, but there is significant interest from Members of Congress in hearing from tribes about their priorities and needs. The House Agriculture Committee marked up and reported out the 2018 House Farm Bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan
(R-WI) has indicated his intent to pass the 2018 House Farm Bill this Spring. The Senate has yet to release its version of a Farm Bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has publicly stated that the Senate will not support a bill from the House that includes controversial changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
As the Farm Bill has many titles and covers numerous issues critically important to Indian Country, this report does not contain a comprehensive analysis of the legislation. Within this General Memorandum, we highlight some of the matters pertinent to tribes at this stage of the Farm Bill reauthorization. However, Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker, LLP is tracking and reporting on Farm Bill developments in detail for clients who have requested such work. Please contact us to let us know if you would like reports and analysis on the details.
Significant Changes Proposed to Food Assistance Programs
Two fundamentally important food assistance programs for Indian Country— SNAP and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)—are under attack in the 2018 House Farm Bill, as there is a push in the House to increase work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries. Approximately 25 percent of American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs), and as high as 60-80 percent in some tribal communities, receive federal food assistance. Members of the Native Farm Bill Coalition (the “Coalition”) (discussed below) have reported that the new SNAP work requirements would likely cause a substantial shift in participants leaving SNAP and joining FDPIR, which has no contingency plan for managing food shortages due to the rapid escalation of participation numbers.
The 2018 House Farm Bill would make significant changes to SNAP work requirements, with no American Indian/Alaska Native or tribal exception. Currently, to receive SNAP benefits, Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWD) between the ages of 18 and 49 are required to either work or participate in employment training or a work program (or a combination) for a minimum of 80 hours a month. The bill would restructure the work hour requirement to be 20 hours per week. It would also expand the requirements to apply to those ages 50 to 59. By 2026, the work hour requirement would increase to 25 hours per week.
Violations of these rules come with stiff penalties. After the first violation of the work or reporting requirements, individuals become ineligible for SNAP benefits for a year, and subsequent violations result in a three-year ineligibility period. Individuals can regain SNAP benefits if they are employed and work the required number of hours or circumstances change so that they are not subject to work requirements.
The 2018 House Farm Bill does not explicitly impose these work requirements on FDPIR participants, but, as reported by the Coalition, there historically is conformity between the requirements of SNAP and FDPIR. The bill would maintain the current prohibition on simultaneously participating in FDPIR and SNAP but would make several positive amendments to FDPIR. First, the bill would add regionally grown foods to the list of foods that the USDA Secretary may purchase for distribution to FDPIR participants, in addition to traditional and locally-grown foods. Additionally, the bill would allow appropriated program funds to remain available for two fiscal years. Lastly, the bill would eliminate the surveying and reporting requirements regarding traditional foods.
Opportunities for Indian Country
The Farm Bill offers an important opportunity for tribes to expand self-governance and self-determination contracting authority to USDA programs. Currently, this authority is only available for programs within the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, and the Indian Health Service in the Department of Health and Human Services. On April 18, 2018, at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on “The 30th Anniversary of Tribal Self-Governance: Successes in Self-governance and an Outlook for the Next 30 Years,” Vice Chairman Tom Udall (D-NM) stated that he and Chairman John Hoeven (R-N)] plan to introduce bipartisan legislation for the Farm Bill that would allow tribes to assume self-governance authority over USDA programs, notably food distribution and forestry. The 2018 House Farm Bill does not contain this broad authority but it would extend self-governance authority to tribes to take on the management and function of the federal government under the Tribal Forest Protection Act (P.L. 108-278).
Tribal Nations have considerable experience and much to share regarding the federal nutrition, agriculture, conservation, and other policies included in the Farm Bill. The Native Farm Bill Coalition formed to voice the positions of Indian Country during the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. The Coalition is a joint project of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community’s Seeds of Native Health campaign, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative. It is co-chaired by Keith B. Anderson, Vice-Chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, and Ross Racine, Executive Director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council. All Tribes are welcome to join the Coalition and the website has a draft letter of support and draft resolution. See: http://seedsofnativehealth.org/native-farm-bill-coalition. Over 70 Tribes and Tribal organizations are currently members of the Coalition, representing over 125 Tribes.
As there are numerous opportunities in the Farm Bill to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of agriculture and nutrition programs in Indian Country, the Coalition is encouraging Tribes to engage with their congressional representatives to boost support for tribal interests and educate them about the significant impact Farm Bill policies have on tribal communities. During the week of May 7, 2018, the Coalition is planning to hold educational sessions and coordinate advocacy efforts for the Farm Bill in Washington, D.C. Numerous Tribal Leaders are expected to already be in Washington, D.C. to testify before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on funding priorities for American Indian/Alaska Native programs.
We encourage Tribes to engage in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or to discuss approaches for engaging with your congressional delegation about your Tribe’s positions regarding the Farm Bill. We are also happy to assist you with coordinating with the Coalition on advocacy opportunities if you will be in Washington, D.C. to testify the week of May 7th.