After months of delays and negotiations, the U.S. Congress approved the $867 billion Farm Bill after a 386-47 vote in the House of Representatives Dec. 19. The Senate had approved the legislation the day before in an 87-to-13 vote. President Donald J. Trump signed the bill into law Dec. 20.
The bill is one of the largest pieces of U.S. domestic legislation and is one that has direct implications for Indian Country.
The five-year authorization allocates billions of dollars in subsidies to American farmers, among the implementation of other programs and agreements.
One of the reasons for the delay this year (the previous bill expired in October) were proposed stricter limits by House Republicans on the nation’s food stamp program, also known as SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Those limits were rejected in passage of the current bill.
Several Native American groups and organizations were pleased with the passage of the legislation and many of its provisions.
A consultant and lobbyist for the Seminole Tribe of Florida in Washington, D.C., who followed and tracked the legislation for months, was also optimistic about the new bill.
“The 2018 Farm Bill … is a significant step forward toward respecting the sovereignty of Indian tribes in U.S. agricultural policy,” said Jeanne L. Morin of Public Policy Advisors.
Morin said the bill provides greater flexibility for tribes and tribal producers in managing their natural resources through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and may make it easier for Seminole agricultural products to be sold into food assistance programs.
The EQIP provides cost-sharing, technical and educational assistance related to agricultural production and environmental quality and benefits.
“[The bill] also provides better access for tribes to the Department of Agriculture’s disaster and commodity-insurance programs over the next five years. This is good news for Indian Country,” Morin added.
Others expressing support for the bill included the Native Farm Bill Coalition, Native American Finance Officers Association, National Indian Health Board and the National Congress of American Indians.
“The Farm Bill recognizes the role tribal governments play in building healthy communities, feeding people, and creating agricultural jobs in rural America,” said Tina Danforth, president of NAFOA in a statement.
Some Tribal economic development provisions from the Farm Bill that officials are hailing as positive include:
• Legalization of industrial hemp farming.
• Refinancing authority for some rural development programs.
• Providing for tribal priority, inclusion and access to broadband programs.
• Codification and expansion of the federal Tribal Promise Zone program authority.
• Tribal eligibility for the Local Agriculture Market program to help tribes grow, process and market Native foods.
• Increased support to include tribes in international U.S. trade delegations.
• Makes tribes eligible for microloans for local foods in food insecure areas.
• Creation of a tribal technical assistance office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
• Establishment of a tribal advisory council to the USDA.