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.

What is the Farm Bill and Why is it Important?

Donny Green, NASCOE Legislative ChairOn April 18, the House Agriculture Committee passed its Farm Bill, H.R. 2, the “Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018”. The full legislative text of H.R. 2 is 641 pages. The Section-By-Section version (link attached at end of this article) is much more condensed and offers highlights of the legislation. The Bill passed the House Agriculture Committee and will now move to the full House which is expected to vote on the measure next month. The Bill will move through the Senate Agriculture Committee next and the Senate is expected to release its version in the next few weeks.

Passage of the House Bill is just one early step in a series of many steps that must be taken before a Farm Bill becomes law. The process can be confusing and therefore we hope to shed a little light on the process to make it a little easier to understand.

So you might ask, “What is the Farm Bill and why is it important?” The Farm Bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. An omnibus bill is a single document accepted in a single vote by Congress that packages together several measures into one or combines diverse subjects. Titles in the most recent farm bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, agricultural conservation, farm credit, trade, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid, and domestic nutrition assistance. Because it is renewed about every five years, the Farm Bill provides a predictable opportunity for policymakers to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues.

The current Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, expires September 30, 2018. When a farm bill expires, not all programs are affected equally. Some programs cease to operate unless reauthorized, while others might continue to pay old obligations. The farm commodity programs not only expire but would revert to permanent law dating back to the 1940s. Nutrition assistance programs require periodic reauthorization, but appropriations can keep them operating. Many discretionary programs would lose statutory authority to receive appropriations, though annual appropriations could provide funding and implicit authorization. Other programs have permanent authority and do not need to be reauthorized. These permanent programs include LFP, LIP, ELAP, and TAP.

The second page of this article contains a flow chart that will serve as a guide to help NASCOE members understand the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law.

NASCOE’s Legislative Team is working hard for our members to stay informed and proactive as the 2018 Farm Bill process continues. We not only monitor Farm Bill issues, but other issues that affect membership such as benefits, annual appropriations and re-organization. NASCOE is proud to represent employees who want our customer service and program delivery to align with Secretary Perdue’s motto to “Do right and feed everyone” in a fiscally responsible manner to benefit our agricultural economy.

H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2019, Section-By-Section:

https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/agriculture_and_nutrition_act_of_2018_section_by_section.pdf

How a Bill Becomes a Law Flow Chart