The Farm Bill is one of the United States’ largest pieces of domestic legislation and Congress reauthorizes it 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. Now is the time, as the Farm Bill is in the final stages of revision before being finalized.
On June 21, 2018, the House passed HR 2, the “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018” and on June 28, the Senate passed its substitute to HR 2, better known as the Farm Bill. The House has indicated that it will proceed with a Conference Committee to work out the significant differences between the bills instead of passing the Senate version of the bill as-is. This is the last step in the process of the Farm Bill reauthorization. Congress last enacted a Farm Bill in 2014, and many of those provisions will expire on September 30, 2018 unless Congress enacts a 2018 Farm Bill.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts (R-KS) will preside over the Farm Bill Conference Committee. Other members of the Conference Committee have not been announced yet, but in past years Conferees have included: the Chairman and Ranking Member from the Senate and House Agriculture Committees; the Chair and Ranking Member from each Senate and House Agriculture Subcommittee; Representatives appointed by House Leadership from each party; and staff for other House Committees, including Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means.
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 provisions pertinent to tribes in each bill. These provisions have been assembled by the Native Farm Bill Coalition and us. 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 a more comprehensive analysis or assistance contacting Members of Congress to communicate your Tribe’s priorities.
Summary of Key Tribal-Specific Provisions
House Farm Bill
As we previously reported, two fundamentally important food assistance programs for Indian Country—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)—are under attack in the House Farm Bill, as there is a push in the House to increase work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries with no American Indian/Alaska Native or tribal exception. It is unclear whether these changes will be included in the final bill, in whole or in part through a compromise.
Key tribal-specific provisions in the House Farm Bill include:
• Under the FDPIR program, the bill expands the traditional foods purchase provision to include “regionally grown” foods; requires traditional foods purchased to be produced “cost-effectively;” and allows funds to carry over for two years.
• Requires a GAO study on access to agriculture credit under the Farm Credit System for tribes and tribal producers.
• Makes tribes eligible to compete for USDA/HHS grants under the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network program.
• Funding for Tribal College and University Essential Community Facilities is cut from $10 million to $5 million (reauthorized at the same level in the Senate Farm Bill).
• State and Private Forestry Landscape-Scale Restoration Program: tribal-owned forest lands are included in the definition of “Private Forestry Land” (in the Senate Farm Bill, forest land owned by a corporation or a tribe is included in the definition of “nonindustrial private forest land” as eligible for a competitive grant with a state agency).
• Includes tribes and tribal organizations as eligible entities for Good Neighbor Agreements (is in the Senate Farm Bill as well, which also includes certain tribal lands).
• Expedites the environmental review and approval process for tribes under the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004.
• Through demonstration projects, extends 638 self-determination authority for tribes to assume the role of the federal government under the Tribal Forest Protection Act.
• Permits tribes to regulate pesticide use under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicides, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and to use methyl bromide in response to an emergency.
• Includes tribes and tribal organizations as eligible for the new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.
• Moves the USDA Office of Tribal Relations from the Office of the Secretary to the new Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement.
Senate Farm Bill
The Senate Farm Bill does not include the significant work requirement changes to SNAP that the House Farm Bill does. Notably, one common theme in the Senate Farm Bill is parity, as many provisions are amended to include tribes as eligible participants. Key tribal-specific provisions include:
• Makes tribes and tribal organizations eligible producers for the Supplemental Agriculture Disaster Assistance program; Makes tribes eligible producers for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program; Makes tribes eligible for technical assistance/training programs under the Rural Business-Cooperative Service; Makes tribes eligible for a new Wood Innovation Grant Program that prioritizes using existing milling capacity; Makes tribes eligible for the Local Agriculture Market Program; Makes tribes eligible for grants for rural emergency medical equipment and training.
• Mandates that USDA enter into alternative funding arrangements for conservation programs, which would allow tribes to be the contracting entity for large projects and increase access to conservation project funding.
• Increases access and opportunities for Native agriculture entities to participate in international trade missions.
• Through demonstration project agreements, extends 638 self-determination authority for tribes to administer FDPIR.
• Other changes to FDPIR include: 80% of administrative costs are paid by USDA and 20% by the tribe, with the option to request a waiver if the match is a “substantial burden,” but federal funding may be used to meet the matching requirement (as well as for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program); and allows administrative funds to carry over for two years.
• Makes tribal consortia eligible for grants for water systems for rural and Native villages in Alaska and includes a 2% set aside.
• Makes electric, broadband, and water infrastructure projects in Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTAs) eligible for refinancing.
• Legalizes industrial hemp farming for States, Tribes and tribal organizations and includes model plans for creation and advancement of hemp production.
• Creates a 90% insurance premium subsidy for first time Native producers of livestock commodities the source of feedstock of which is pasture, rangeland, and forage.
• Establishes a new Tribal Advisory Council to advise the Secretary on tribal matters within USDA and a permanent Rural Development Tribal Technical Assistance Office to provide technical assistance across all areas of rural development funding for tribal governments, tribal producers, tribal businesses, tribal business entities, and tribally designated housing entities.
• Aims to improve integration of USDA and HHS programs to support rural health through a new USDA Rural Health Liaison position to work in consultation with HHS.
• Creates a micro-grant ($5,000-$10,000) program for tribes to implement projects to address food security, such as small-scale gardening, herding, and livestock operations.
Conference Committee Amendment Sought
Our Firm is working with a client to seek an amendment to the Farm Bill during Conference Committee negotiations that would enhance the industrial hemp provisions in the Senate Farm Bill to make it stronger for tribes. If accepted, this amendment would help facilitate greater tribal participation and would address some of the unique aspects and hurdles facing Indian Country for hemp farming and production activities.
We encourage Tribes to engage in the reauthorization of the Farm Bill and now is the time. It is important that the progress achieved so far not be lost during Conference. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or to discuss approaches for engaging with the Farm Bill Conferees (once announced), Committee leadership, or your congressional delegation about your Tribe’s positions regarding the Farm Bill.