August 24, 2021
By Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
Annually, the NASCOE legislative team engages with Congress regarding what resources FSA needs to fulfill its mission. Even with COVID-19 restrictions this year was no different. The NASCOE legislative consultant has been working with members of Congress to advance NASCOE’s priorities by maintaining key relationships on both sides of the isle in both the House and the Senate.
Recently, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved their draft fiscal year 2022 appropriations bill and report. The House companion has now been approved by the full House of Representatives. Both the Senate and the House version will be combined to arrive at a version which will serve as a vehicle for FSA’s 2022 salaries and expense funding.
The chart below provides details about FSA salaries and expenses spending levels.
|Previously Enacted||House||Senate||Enacted Level|
|FY 2021 $1,437,038,000||FY 2022 $1,469,784,000 +$32,746,000||FY 2022 $1,472,438,000 +$35,400,000||FY 2022 To be determined|
In addition, NASCOE secured language related to our legislative priorities. The below items can be found within the draft Committee bills.
- Prohibiting FSA County Office closures
- Funding for County Committee meetings
- Prohibiting permanent relocation of staff without Congressional notification
- The Committee remains concerned about staffing shortages at FSA offices and continues to direct the Secretary to submit a report to Congress with an administrative breakdown of allotment levels by State, current full-time equivalents, current on-board permanent employees by State, and funded ceiling levels by State.
While it is nice to see appropriations that are considerably higher than the previous year, we are not yet at the end of the road. The Legislative Team along with NASCOE’s Legislative Consultant will continue to monitor progress of the Senate Bill as it makes its way to the Senate floor for a vote. If passed, the bills will then go to an appointed conference committee before again coming to a vote in both chambers. A more detailed report regarding the House committee report language and Senate Disaster language can be found on the NASCOE Website.
By Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
We hope this legislative update finds you all well. With COVID-19 continuing to impact our work environment, we are doing our best to serve NASCOE members and production agriculture. Recently, the Department of Agriculture announced our offices would be operating under limited capacity. We continue to urge our leadership to make decisions regarding office status based on data in the local area as opposed to government wide mandates. It is our belief that the new team leading USDA understands the importance of allowing our county offices to operate and service our customers.
In addition to COVID office concerns, we have heard about various states lowering annual employee ceilings. Despite FSA receiving a budget increase this year, some state offices have cited “budget cuts” as the reason for lowering the total number of county office employees NASCOE leadership is working to better understand the budget challenges our agency faces for the current fiscal year. FSA employees continually respond to every challenge as they do their part to support American farmers. Over the past two years, county office employees have worked tirelessly implementing trade adjustment and COVID relief payments.
The chart below provides details about recent FSA spending levels. These funding levels can be found in the annual Agriculture Appropriations report. The funding chart appears as the Comparative Statement of Budget Authority (CSBA).
|FPAC Business Center (including transfers)||FSA Salaries and Expenses (including transfers)|
|FY 2021 = $291,960,000||FY 2021 = $1,437,038,000|
|FY 2020 = $280,186,000||FY 2020 = $1, 414,214,000|
|FY 2019 = $292,659,000||FY 2019 = $1,375,177,000|
NASCOE has been diligent showing members of Congress the need to provide funding increases year after year. To assist Congress with preparing this year’s budget, NASCOE visited with the House Agriculture Chairman and spoke about staffing concerns before the House Agriculture Sub-Committee on Nutrition and Forestry.
Please keep us updated should you hear about employee ceilings in your state being lowered based on funding reductions. NASCOE leadership shares the frustration and concerns of those states that had a reduction in staffing. We will continue to work with the new administration and use every avenue available to seek resolution to these issues.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
January 14, 2021
The 2021 higher annual leave carryover limit established under section 1111 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (H.R. 6395), was enacted on January 1, 2021. Since the enactment, OPM has issued their determination of how this new rule will affect Federal employees.
As you may recall, NASCOE consulted with legal counsel, our legislative consultant and contacted various Executive and Legislative branch officials regarding the legislation and the potential adverse effect it could have on county office employees. We believed then and it is now confirmed that this provision will not negatively impact county office employees. FSA employees who were deemed essential due to an exigency of public business will be able to have all their excess leave restored as previously granted by the FSA administrator.
According to OPM, Section 1111 of the NDAA does not eliminate the annual leave restoration rules in 5 U.S.C. 6304(d), which are applied after annual leave hours in excess of the normally applicable annual leave carryover limit are forfeited. The following table issued by OPM, shows key differences between excess leave under section 1111 and restored leave under 5 U.S.C. 6304(d):
|Section 1111 (NDAA)||Section 6304 (d)|
|Approach to allowing carryover above normal limits||Higher carryover limit prevents forfeiture (conditions for applying higher limit are determined by OPM Director)||Leave in excess of the carryover limit is forfeited and then restored if certain statutory conditions are met|
|Time limits on usage||Must be used during leave year 2021||Varies, but at least 2 years. (See 5 CFR 630.306- 630.310.)|
|Inclusion in lump-sum annual leave payment upon separation||May not be included.||Is included.|
|Limitation on amount||Leave carryover ceiling is 125% of normal ceiling (for most employees, 300 hours instead of 240 hours)||No limitation (but cannot be more than a given employee can accrue in a full leave year)|
In conclusion, county office employees who were previously concerned about having their leave restored or receiving lump sum payments for restored leave at retirement can now be assured that OPM has made a clear interpretation of Section 1111 of the NDAA bill. Restoration of forfeited carryover leave should be processed as scheduled with no adverse effects to county office employees.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
December 30, 2020
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. President Trump recently vetoed the Legislation; however, the House and Senate are expected to override the veto making this year’s NDAA bill public law.
NASCOE is hearing that some State Offices are indicating the NDAA may have an unintended negative effect on employees who have accumulated “restored” annual leave, particularly those who plan to retire in 2021.
NASCOE has consulted legal counsel and contacted various Executive and Legislative branch officials about the legislation’s effect on FSA employees. We believe Congress did not intend that this provision would negatively impact our County Office employees carrying over “restored leave” and should not lead our members toward early retirement. We believe the intent of the Legislative branch is to allow “non-essential” employees, who did not have restored leave, the ability to carryover an additional 25 percent of annual leave for use during 2021.
Even though we believe the language will not affect county office employees with restored leave who were deemed essential, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. At this point we do not anticipate any scenario where OPM will nullify any earned leave that was “restored” due to an exigency of public business.
We will update membership with any subsequent Department or OPM guidance.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
December 28, 2020
Last night, President Trump signed the annual appropriations and COVID relief stimulus package. The signing of this measure provides a full year spending allocation for government agencies and averts any further shutdown concerns. We highlighted key aspects of the USDA budget in our December 22nd News Flash.
The COVID Relief Bill also makes available significant additional funding for farmers as referenced in our December 21st News Flash. Farm Bureau has recently released their assessment of forthcoming programs. If you wish to read their analysis please click here. Note: while some groups are offering their interpretation of provisions, FSA will release final rules and regulations for the programs in the near future.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, NASCOE Legislative Co-Chairs
December 23, 2020
As part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress passed legislation that will allow Federal Employees to carryover an additional 25% of their annual leave into year 2021. While this sounds like a great benefit for Federal Employees, NASCOE is hearing that it may have an unintended negative effect on County Office employees who plan of retiring in 2021 and have accumulated “restored” annual leave. The language in the bill states the extra leave (60 hours) will not be included in lump sum payments that federal employees receive when they leave federal service.
NASCOE has been working over the past week to research the following concerns on behalf of the membership:
- Does this language exclude prior leave restored in previous years from being paid out? For example, in August of 2020, OPM allowed employees in Federal agencies to carry over leave due to carrying out COVID-19 relief in their respective agencies. The FSA Administrator subsequently restored excess leave for all County Office employees who assisted with COVID-19 relief.
- NASCOE reads the language provided in the NDAA to be separate from any other provisions which allowed prior leave to be carried over into the new year due to COVID-19 relief efforts. Is this interpretation accurate?
Currently, USDA states that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will have the sole responsibility of interpreting the intent of this new law and how it is applied to Federal employees. We realize that immediate retirement decisions may hinge on how this legislation will ultimately be implemented. We also know that some State Offices are notifying employees this new provision may make any previously restored annual leave ineligible for a lump-sum payment upon retirement. It is our hope to find out more information regarding the intent of the legislation, and pass this along to you as soon as possible.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette
December 21, 2020
The House of Representatives and US Senate announced agreement to provide additional COVID-19 assistance and the fiscal year 2021 appropriations measures. We expect one additional continuing resolution providing the time needed to send these bills to the President’s desk. We do not expect a government shutdown.
The COVID-19 assistance details are posted below for your review. We will send a second update outlining the annual funding levels provided through the appropriations bill.
Covid-19 Agriculture Assistance – $13 billion total
- $11.1875 billion for agriculture producers, growers, and processors
- Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments for the 2020 crop year – option for 2018 and 2019 sales – (cattle included)
- Up to $1 billion for livestock and poultry contract growers
- $20 million to improve and maintain animal disease prevention and response capacity
- May extend the term of a marketing assistance loan
- No less than $1.5 billion to purchase food and agricultural products, including seafood
- Up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and hauling businesses
- May make payments to producers of advanced biofuel, biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, conventional biofuel, or renewable fuels with market losses due to COVID-19
- May make recourse loans available to dairy product processors, packagers, or merchandisers
- $100 million to support the Farm Bill’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
- $100 million for the Farm Bill’s Local Agriculture Market Program
- $75 million for the Farm Bill’s Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program
- $400 million to pay for milk to be processed into dairy products and donated to non-profit entities (food banks, feeding programs, etc.)
- Establishes a Federal livestock dealer trust to ensure that livestock producers are paid for their animals
- $60 million to make facility upgrade and planning grants to existing meat and poultry processors to help them move to Federal inspection
- $28 million to be distributed as block grants to state departments of agriculture for use to support existing farm stress programs
*Additional funds were provided to domestic nutrition programs.
Clint Bain and Neil Burnette, Legislative Co-Chairs
December 11, 2020
The House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have both passed a stopgap spending bill which the President is expected to sign late Friday. This CR will fund the government for one week, setting a new deadline of December 18. Congressional Leaders are optimistic that they can complete work on an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund all sectors of the government prior to the proposed new deadline of December 18.
Your Legislative team will continue to monitor the situation over the next several days and inform membership if there are any major unexpected developments.