Continuing Resolution Vote

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
September 23, 2020

By a vote of 359 to 57, last night the House of Representatives passed a bipartisan stopgap continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 11, 2020.

The bill provides 30 billion in funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation to replenish depleted funds. Also included in the measure was nearly 8 billion for a variety of food nutrition assistance including funding to feed children affected by the pandemic that normally receive school lunches.

The deal was worked out between House Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The Senate is expected to schedule a vote on the bill prior to funding expiring on September 30th. The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the bill.

President Trump’s Executive Order (EO) Deferring the Payroll Tax

Clint Bain and Neil Burnette Legislative Co-Chairs
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

On August 8th, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) that defers the payroll tax (OASDI deductions) from September 1 to December 31.  The President’s actions define eligibility as employees earning less than $100,000 per year.  Following the announcement, both government and private sector employees have questioned the benefit of deferring payroll taxes. As of today, employees and employers expect the tax will be collected next calendar year. 

For those impacted, this opportunity will lead to higher take-home pay. Critics of the tax deferral have said that it simply amounts to pushing off the taxes into early next year—when employees may have forgotten that they are required to repay the benefit.  IRS guidance issued last week states that affected employees will have to repay the suspended payments by April 30, 2021—although there will be no interest or penalties charged for repaying on time—unless Congress waives the obligation. 

For now, our NASCOE family needs to plan appropriately assuming the short-term tax benefit will be repaid next year. 

Can federal employees opt out of the deferral? The National Finance Center (NFC) released information announcing system modifications to the payroll system effective for pay period 17.  The Department has indicated that they are currently researching the possibility of employees having the option to opt out. We expect FSA employees to see the additional funds in their bank account when pay period 17 is disbursed.  The elimination of the withholding will vary by employee by PP, based upon any changes in their gross social security wages.

Do we expect Congress will approve legislation waiving repayment of the deferred taxes? Trump’s memo anticipated that the obligation would be waived, but there has been strong bipartisan opposition in Congress toward a waiver and no move toward it.

The NASCOE legislative team will monitor any movement of legislation by Congress regarding this tax deferral.

NASCOE fights for Paid Parental Leave Benefit

Recently NASCOE leadership has been answering lots of questions about paid parental leave and the applicability of that benefit for FSA County Office (CO) employees.  The National Defense Authorization Act (Bill S-1790) which funded parts of the federal government for fiscal year 2020 was recently passed and provides up to 12 weeks per 12-month period of paid parental leave available under the Family and Medical Leave Act for Federal employees.  This new leave is effective for births, adoptions or foster placements beginning October 1st of this year.  Unfortunately, this legislation did not extend the entitlement benefit to include FSA CO personnel.  Specifically, the employees hired and supervised by County Committees established under Section 590h(b) of Title 16.

Background

Many of the recent Paid Parental Leave questions received by NASCOE leadership center around why FSA CO employees aren’t included in the benefit.  The answer to that question is best explained by the background of the County Committee and the origins of NASCOE. 

Historically, the civil service was created in the late 1800’s to staff agencies newly created by Congress.  These employees now go by the nomenclature Federal, General Schedule (GS), or Title 5 employees.  Later, during the depression, when creating new farm and food security legislation, Congress was looking for an alternative to the typical federal program delivery system.   Congress wanted a new delivery method which provided a system of local credibility so that farmers and ranchers would “buy-in” to new agricultural support programs.  To that end, Congress created the County Committee (COC) system, designed to be an alternative system of government that farmers and ranchers could trust.  Legislation also allowed those same COC’s to hire staff, which includes the modern day CED and PT.  COC’s and their staff are considered Title 7, County Office (CO), or non-Federal employees, who are governed by the Department of Agriculture and not the Office of Personnel Management.

CO and GS employees, working side by side in USDA Service Centers, have many things in common including pay scales, leave earning, health/life insurance, work schedules, and more.  In recent memory, USDA has generally mirrored CO benefits to match the guidance that OPM gives for GS employees.  However, this hasn’t always been the case.  For much of our history, USDA GS employees who offered conservation and credit programs enjoyed salary, health, and retirement benefits while CO employees down the hall were working for a minimum wage with no benefits.  This was obviously a major disparity between two groups of employees who perform similar work for the same customer base.

In 1959, to correct the inequity of benefits, our predecessor CO employees voluntarily banded together to create NASCOE.  NASCOE is designed to improve working conditions and advocate for the profession of the CO employee.  Throughout its history, NASCOE has been responsible for obtaining and ensuring the continuation of annual leave, sick leave, health insurance, retirement, relocation benefits, within grade increases, annual cost of living adjustments, leave transfer & and other benefits for FSA CO employees.  NASCOE also works annually to obtain adequate levels of funding for agency salaries and expenses.  These benefits and supplemental funding have been attained through NASCOE working directly with USDA or the Congress.  In the spirit of equality, USDA and the Congress has answered previous requests by granting requested benefits to FSA CO employees.   Added benefits for CO employees are greatly enjoyed by the FSA non-federal workforce.  It is hard to imagine what a modern-day FSA workspace would look like if CO employees didn’t have the same benefits as other federal employees in the office.

Moving Forward

History repeats itself and once again we are looking at a situation where there is a disparity between GS and CO benefits.  In this case, the new benefit is paid parental leave.  FSA CO employees make up the majority of USDA’s field office staff who provide federal benefits to American farmers and ranchers.  NASCOE believes the ability of employees to take paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child can’t be overstated.  The absence of the paid parental leave would be detrimental to the morale and functionality of those employees who are starting or expanding their families.  

A request has been sent to the Department from NASCOE, asking for Paid Parental Leave to be granted to CO employees on October 1, just as it is for GS employees.  Again, this is historically how NASCOE has obtained other benefits such as annual leave and sick leave.  Additionally, while NASCOE fully expects USDA to grant this benefit to CO employees, we believe the exclusion of CO employees by Congress was an inadvertent oversight.  Therefore, NASCOE also intends to request Congress grant Paid Parental Leave as a benefit for all FSA CO employees. 

Rest assured, NASCOE leadership fully understands how important Paid Parental Leave, as well as all our existing benefits, are to each of you and we are committed to tirelessly fighting for them on your behalf, no matter how long it takes.  Obviously, we can’t do it alone and so we appreciate the support of membership as we work to ensure that you continue to have the same privileges that other GS employees enjoy. 

Part-time employment opportunity for FSA Retirees

Are you a retired FSA employee interested in coming back to work on a temporary part-time basis?

FSA is looking for up to 200 experienced individuals to assist with high workload demands. Dual compensation waivers may be available for re-employed annuitants. Duty stations are to be determined upon selection and may include telework.

To express interest and for more information, please email the following information to with the subject line “Reemployed Annuitant Information”:

• Your full name
• State you last worked in
• Position last held
• Your retirement date
• Duty location/s of interest

#DAFO #Retirees #FSA #NowHiring

CRM – Farm Records Software Update

This morning, Web Transmittal 664 was posted. Below is an overview of the software updates implemented over the weekend:

Display Improvements:

The Farm Record’s Recent items on the left navigation has been changed to display the Admin County-Admin State-Farm Number instead of displaying the IBase number:

The Field Level Farm Hierarchy Display has been enhanced to expand upon selection so all field level attributes in the hierarchy can be seen and are not truncated. The farm hierarchy will only expand when a field is selected from the hierarchy list:

Modified Functionality:

The system will now allow a CCC-517 to redistribute bases between tract prior to a CCC-505 when a farm is out-of-balance. This will allow producers to adjust bases between tracts using the wizard before completing a permanent base reduction for the farm. This was an indicated pain point from county office staff and NASCOE.

The system will now calculate the CCC-505 CRP Reduction acres during a tract division. Reduction acres will be prorated to resulting tracts based on the number of CRP cropland acres each tract receives. Users will still need to enter a new CRP contract number in the wizard for the resulting tracts. Subparagraph 309 C, step 13G provides instructions for prorating CCC-505 CRP Reduction acres during a tract division. These steps will be amended with the next handbook update to indicate that the system will now perform the proration calculation in the wizard. All other instructions remain the same.

New Functionality:

Producer notification letters have been added to the “More” dropdown menu. Notification letters for owner and operator changes and boundary/acreage changes can now be generated when required according to 10-CM. The following four types of letters have been included, which are based off the notification letters in 10-CM with some modification to allow for the system generation in CRM:

  • Boundary and Acreage Change
  • Operator Change Notification Letter
  • Owner Change Notification Letter to Current/Prior Owners
  • Owner Change Notification Letter to Operator

Basic steps to generate a notification letter include:

  1. Select the “More” drop down menu → Select “Producer Notification Letters”
  2. Select the Notification Letter Type from the drop down menu
  3. Select the applicable producer
  4. Click “Producer Notification” icon to generate the letter

Additional guidance for the notification letters is forthcoming.
This will be included in the next update to 10-CM.

2020 NASCOE Convention Update

Greetings NASCOE Members,

As you are likely aware, the NASCOE Board of Directors recently met via conference call.  The sole item of business was to consider how we should move forward with the 2020 National Convention in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.  NASCOE finds itself in an unprecedented situation and the safety of our members and partners must be our number one concern.  Additionally, NASCOE also has an obligation to limit the potential liability to our association.  After much consideration, the Board of Directors voted to cancel the 2020 National Convention in Savannah, GA.  This decision was not taken lightly, and we want to personally thank all the individual Board members (two from each state) for their preparation, diligence, and careful weighing of the choices. 

NASCOE’s National Convention is primarily our annual business meeting.  While we won’t able to conduct that face-to-face this year, we still plan on having an annual meeting in some fashion.  Research has begun on alternatives to allow us to have a virtual meeting.  The alternatives would facilitate our elections, area breakouts, committee updates, and as many of the business functions of the convention as possible.  We’ll be engaging membership in how best to accomplish this and welcome your suggestions.

One can hardly count all the benefits that NASCOE brings, but fellowship and community are toward the top of the list.  We know that it is disappointing that we won’t be able to see each other, share stories and enjoy each other’s company.  However, these challenges won’t last forever and before you know it, we’ll all be together in Fort Wayne, IN for the 2021 convention.  We will also get to experience the hospitality of Georgia, as they will now host us in Savannah in 2022.

Thank you all for everything you do and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,

Rick Csutoras and Curt Houk
National Convention Co-Chairs

USDA announces details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP)

By Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant

On April 17, 2020, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that USDA will use the funding and authorities provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES), the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), and other USDA existing authorities to fund the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The program includes two major elements.  Secretary Perdue provided the following details about the program aimed at assisting farmers and ranchers as they struggle from the effects of the pandemic:

$16 billion in direct payments for farmers and ranchers: funded using the $9.5 billion emergency program in the CARES Act and $6.5 billion in Credit Commodity Corporation (CCC) funding. The program will provide direct support based on actual losses for agricultural producers where prices and market supply chains have been impacted and will assist producers with additional adjustment and marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply for the 2020 marketing year caused by COVID-19.

  • $9.6 billion for the livestock industry
    • $5.1 billion for cattle
    • $2.9 billion for dairy
    • $1.6 billion for hogs
    • $3.9 billion for row crop producers
    • $2.1 billion for specialty crops producers
    • $500 million for other crops

Producers will receive a single direct payment determined using two calculations:

  • Price losses that occurred January 1-April 15, 2020. Producers will be compensated for 85% of price loss during that period.

  • Second part of the payment will be expected losses from April 15 through the next two quarters and will cover 30% of expected losses.

  • The payment limit is $125,000 per commodity with an overall limit of $250,000 per individual or entity. Qualified commodities must have experienced a 5% price decrease between January and April.

  • USDA is expediting the rule making process for the direct payment program and expects to begin sign-up for the new program in early May and to get payments out to producers by the end of May or early June.

$3 billion in purchases of agriculture products: including meat, dairy and produce to support producers and provide food to those in need. USDA will partner with local food and regional distributors to deliver food to food banks, as well as community and faith-based organizations to provide food to those in need.  USDA will begin with the procurement of an estimated $100 million per month in fresh fruits and vegetables, $100 million per month in a variety of dairy products, and $100 million per month in meat products. The distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to be distributed by these partner organizations to those in need.

USDA will also utilize other available funding sources to purchase and distribute food to those in need:

  • USDA has up to an additional $873.3 million available in Section 32 funding to purchase a variety of agricultural products for distribution to food banks. The use of these funds will be determined by industry requests, USDA agricultural market analysis, and food bank needs.

  • The FFCRA and CARES Act provided an at least $850 million for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases, of which a minimum of $600 million will be designated for food purchases. The use of these funds will be determined by food bank need and product availability.