Republican U.S. Representative Neal Dunn from Florida’s 2nd congressional district was recently named to the Farm Bill Conference Committee. The Senate and House each appointed officials from their respective chambers in order to negotiate a 2018 farm bill before the 2014 farm bill expires on September 30th.
The conference consists of all members from the House and Senate Agriculture committees, as well as House representatives from committees relevant to the bill. Dr. Neal Dunn is a conferee from the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
The bill, which is usually passed every five years, covers a wide range of issues (e.g., research, farming practices, credits, grants, and SNAP benefits) and is considered an omnibus bill. An omnibus bill covers a variety of topics under one vote.
Earlier this year, the Senate and House drafted and passed their own versions of the farm bill. Now the two legislative bodies must negotiate a comprehensive bill. But there are many crucial differences that must be reconciled before the deadline.
One of the bill’s major issues – which could have significant impact on Florida – deals with price supports for the sugar industry. According to a Washington Post article entitled, 6 Things to Watch in the House Farm Bill, from Food Stamp Requirements to School Lunch, the government currently controls the amount of domestic and foreign sugar in the market and guarantees a minimum price for domestic producers if the prices drop.
Some congressmen have signaled they want to allow more foreign sugar into the market arguing that the current structure breeds corporate welfare. However, sugar-producing states such as Florida have balked at the idea, claiming that foreign countries would dump cheap sugar into the U.S. market and hurt the U.S economy.
Moreover, the new bill imposes stricter requirements for food stamps. The bill contains provisions that require those eligible for food stamps to work at least 20 hours a week, or enroll in a state-run training program. An additional $1 billion in funding will be allocated to boost state training programs. However, statistics project that training programs can cover only 80% of food stamp recipients, and many could lose benefits.
The bills differ in their approaches to commodity titles, conservation funding, research funding, trade assistance, payment limits, and nutrition funding.
With such a short amount of time until the September deadline, it is possible that the committee may only formally meet once or twice. Moreover, the Senate’s August recess further impedes the ability to thoroughly negotiate the two bills.
A majority of each of the House and Senate conferees must vote in favor of the bill before it can be presented before Congress.