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.

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.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or the (CARES Act)

Neil Burnette and Clint Bain, Legislative Committee Co-Chairs

In response to the national crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed a massive stimulus package assisting both businesses and individuals. The stimulus package will impact the Farm Service Agency and our NASCOE membership.

Below is a brief summary of these provisions:

  • The bill provides $3 million for hiring temporary staff and paying for overtime expenses at the Farm Service Agency to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus. 
  • The bill includes a $14 billion boost in funding authority for USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. 
  • The legislation provides $9.5 billion for assisting livestock operations, including dairy farmers, as well as fruit-and-vegetable (specialty) crop producers. Farmers who sell directly to farmers markets, schools and restaurants would also be eligible for aid.
  • The bill allows the Secretary of Agriculture to extend the term of a marketing assistance loans for any commodity to 12 months.  The authority will expire September 30th, 2020.
  • The stimulus package provides payments to individuals based on your 2018 or 2019 adjusted gross income. The maximum amount you can receive is $1,200, or if married filing jointly, $2,400 per couple. That amount phases out for single filers with an AGI between $75,000 and $99,000, joint filers with an AGI between $150,000 and $198,000 and heads of household with an AGI between $112,500 and $146,500. Those who qualify for the $1,200 credit will also receive an additional $500 for each qualifying dependent 16 years old or younger. The stimulus money is technically a tax credit for 2020 that will be paid out, in advance, as soon as possible.  Individuals with direct deposits established with the IRS could see these deposits within a couple of weeks.

The Legislative team has been closely following this process and we will monitor how the department responds to these opportunities as a result of the increased funding.  We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

NASCOE Legislative News — 2020 Appropriations Update

Appropriations Update

Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant
December 13, 2019

The Legislative Committee is cautiously optimistic as we announce that the leaders in spending talks announced Thursday afternoon that they have reached a “deal in principle” to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2020, according to House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY). A vote in the House will be scheduled for Tuesday. 

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said staff members are working out “a few details.” He and Lowey announced the agreement with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking member of Senate Appropriations, and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), ranking on House Appropriations.

Although this is very positive news and we are hopeful that Congress will be able to accomplish this task, we also acknowledge there are lot of hot topic partisan politics issues swirling in Washington that could derail these plans.  Your Legislative team will keep a close eye on the appropriations process in the coming days and let you know of any major changes.

NASCOE Legislative Flash – Senate Vote on Continuing Resolution

Continuing Resolution Senate Vote
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant
November 21, 2019

By vote of 74-20, The U.S. Senate today passed a short-term measure to fund the government until December 20th, buying Washington four more weeks before the threat of another shutdown.  The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the continuing resolution. 

Since the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both passed their versions of the Agriculture Appropriations bill, we are hopeful the two draft measures will be finalized in conference prior to the December 20th deadline. 

The NASCOE Legislative Team will continue to monitor the appropriations bill and keep the membership informed of any progress.

NASCOE Legislative Flash Update – November 19, 2019

Continuing Resolution Vote and NASCOE Preparations
Hunter Moorhead, Legislative Consultant
November 19, 2019

By a vote of 231 to 192, the House of Representatives today passed the continuing resolution to keep the government open through December 20, 2019.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor statement today that the Senate will pass the continuing resolution and President Trump will sign it.

The Leader also mentioned that talks continue regarding completion of the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills.  As a reminder, the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have both passed the Agriculture Appropriations bill.  We are hopeful the two draft measures will be finalized before the December 20 deadline.

Although we have no indication a government shutdown is anticipated, Chris Lary, National Benefits/Emblems Chair, has been taking a proactive role to prepare in case there were to be a furlough.  Many employees have been contacted regarding what worked well last time and what didn’t work so well.  She has complied information in order to help mitigate the impact of a furlough.

The employee checklist for furlough has been reviewed, web links have been viewed and verified and NASCOE is prepared should the need arise to get membership information to assist them.

Please make sure your State President has your current home email address so that you will receive this information timely.

Congressional Agricultural Hearings — October 28, 2019

FSA County Office Employees are facing challenging times.  You are administering more programs from various software platforms than ever before.  You face these challenges head on each day with fewer employees than we have ever had.  NASCOE understands you are struggling to meet the daily demands of providing an ever-increasing array of programs while maintaining the same quality of service your customers expect and deserve.

Your NASCOE team has worked diligently with the FSA Administration to increase staffing in field offices.  We supported the development of a work measurement tool to support our case for additional staffing, however the administration continues to withhold the full results of the workload model.  Members of Congress have also requested on multiple occasions and been denied this information from the Department.

NASCOE continues to work with concerned members of Congress to provide additional funding for FSA salaries and expenses.  Congress has responded and provided their support.  They are concerned about the American Farmers who depend on you to deliver the farm programs passed by Congress to help keep rural America strong.  Due to these concerns, both Houses of Congress have recently held hearings on the 2018 Farm Bill Implementation.  They have asked the tough questions regarding FSA county offices being properly staffed so employees have the ability to administer these farm programs.

On September 19, 2019, Under Secretary Bill Northey testified at a joint House hearing of the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee to Review the Implementation of Federal Farm and Disaster Programs. You can view the hearing by clicking on the following link.

The hearing is 3 hours long so you may want to skip ahead to the following points indicated below to hear the items that best reflect the issues that NASCOE has been working closely with members of the House on:

1:06 – Congressman Peterson – Staffing concerns and part time offices

1:12 – Congressman Conway – 2018 Farm Bill implementation

1:15 – Congressman Peterson – Employment application process

On October 17th, Deputy Secretary Censky provided testimony and answered questions at a hearing held by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Below is a link to the page where you can watch this hearing.

Implementing the 2018 Farm Bill | The United States Senate Committee On Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry

You may want to skip to the following times which highlight the committees concerns about the status of FSA staffing:

0:36 – Senator Hoeven – FSA office staffing

1:21 – Senator Hyde Smith – Asks questions concerning the current law prohibiting the closure of any FSA county office without prior congressional approval, and prohibiting the relocation of any staff that results in an office with two or fewer employees

FSA programs are discussed at various points throughout both hearings.  Please take time to look at the clips from the hearings to see how NASCOE and Congress are working together to address these concerns with USDA.  We believe you will find that Congress is very aware of the lack of hiring going on in FSA across the nation.  You will also see how much Congress appreciates the work that our members do for American agriculture in county offices across this nation each day.

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020 Hunter Moorehead, Legislative Consultant

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020
Hunter Moorehead, Legislative Consultant

The House of Representatives and U.S. Senate approved legislation funding the government at current levels through November 21. This allows our employees to continue working without any lapse of federal appropriations.

The bill includes language allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to continue disbursing Commodity Credit Corporation funds for the Market Facilitation Program. This will ensure farmers continue to receive financial assistance.

Our legislative committee is working to educate legislators about the need for additional salaries and expenses funding for the next fiscal year. In addition, Members of Congress continue to highlight FSA’s field office staffing needs and the inability to adequately deliver farm programs.

The agency has completed the new workload analysis and our farmers deserve better customer service. We believe field office staff numbers are short over 2,000 FTEs. The time has come for the USDA to give us the tools necessary to deliver farm programs.