Jack Block: Farm Bill

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

The current Farm Bill runs out at the end of September. Will we get a new one? If so, when? Thanks to the efforts of Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow, they have negotiated a bill. With the leadership of Congressman Mike Conaway, the House has completed their bill. Now comes the hard part. The two bills must be conferenced. They aren’t the same.

The biggest difference is not farm program supports. It has to do with who gets food stamps. The House bill imposes work requirements on able bodied recipients. If not work, they must receive job training. Conaway said the goal is to help “millions of low-income Americans climb the economic ladder.”

That will be the stumbling block. I don’t think the Senate will accept very much in the way of work requirements. Senate Democrats will oppose.

I know the Republican leadership wants to get a bill passed by the end of September before the mid term election. I hope they do, but I’m not optimistic. Maybe by the end of the year. Farm bills are always difficult to get through Congress.

Another big concern in farm country is the challenge in finding enough workers. At current trends, the Labor Dept. is expected to issue 242,000 A-2A visas this year. That is up from last year’s 200,000. The hopeful news is the House is preparing to debate a new bill to replace the H-2A program authorizing 450,000 workers under an H-2C program good for 3 years. The cosponsors of the bill are Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway and Democrat Collin Peterson. American Farm Bureau supports the bill, but everyone is not happy. The bill requires that all employees use the E-Verify system to make sure they are legal. Also, the workers must have health insurance.

As desperate as the need is for workers, passage will not be easy. Stay tuned…

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit johnblockreports.com.

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