One of the largest pieces of domestic legislation sits in limbo in the U.S. Congress. The Farm Bill, renewed every five years, is one of significant importance to farming and ranching communities across the country.
Native communities keep a close eye on the bill as well, in part because some say Indian Country has often been marginalized when it comes to discussions of the bill and its final provisions.
The current version expired Sept. 30, effectively ending many programs and placing others in a holding pattern until lawmakers approve a replacement or agree on an extension.
Jeanne Morin, who represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida in Washington, D.C., and lobbies on issues important to the Tribe, agrees.
“If it doesn’t get done this year, folks will start to feel the effects of some Farm Bill programs being suspended, unless [the House and Senate] approve a short-term extension of the current law,” she said.
The Farm Bill covers nutrition programs, agricultural policies, food production, natural resource conservation, rural development and insurance programs. Other provisions shape topics like commodities, trade, credit, research, forestry and horticulture.
The House and Senate prepare their own provisions of the bill designed to merge into a final version to be sent to President Donald J. Trump for his signature.
“All of us regret where we are,’’ said Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, recently to Congressional Quarterly (CQ) after a meeting with top negotiators from the House and Senate. “I know farmers and ranchers and growers out there say, ‘What on earth are you guys doing?’ Well, if you look at what’s in the bills you see stark differences of opinion.”
One of the main sticking points appears to be proposed changes by the House to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.
The House wants expanded work requirements on a bigger pool of “able-bodied adult recipients.” Negotiators also differ on Title 1, which sets the terms for farm program subsidies, according to CQ.
The Native Farm Bill Coalition has emerged this year to help tribes deal with the issue of not having enough seats at the table. The group has been working to get provisions in the reauthorization of the bill to be able to, among other things, allow tribes greater access to federal government contracts.
“There are several provisions included in both versions of the bill that would be of historic importance to tribal governments and communities, Native producers, and all of Indian Country,” the coalition said recently in a statement.
For now, stakeholders hope something will come together in time to make it to President Trump’s desk in November or December.