On Thursday (Feb. 28), over 150 local and national organizations wrote to the full Congress urging support for Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski’s proposal to end direct farm subsidy payments and use a small portion of the savings to restore funding for critical farm bill programs that were left out of the fiscal cliff deal passed on December 31,2012. The farm program changes are part of a larger bill to stop automatic across-the-board budget cuts and substitute a larger, targeted, balanced package of spending cuts and tax loophole closings
The direct payment program had been eliminated in the 2012 Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed farm bills but was nonetheless then included in the farm bill extension, while funding for dozens of other cost-effective programs included in those bills were zeroed out.
The letter stated,“A fiscal package compiled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would correct the disastrous farm bill extension measure contained in the New Year fiscal cliff deal. …As supporters of sustainability and equity, we believe the package or one substantially similar has merit as a fairer farm bill extension and a pathway to a better approach to deficit reduction than across the board cuts.”
Among other provisions, the American Family Economic Protection Act would use savings from the elimination of direct payments to reinstate funding for programs eliminated in the extension deal, including $452 million for agricultural research, rural development, renewable energy, and support for local, organic, specialty crop, beginning, and disadvantaged farmers.
These small but vital programs help farmers expand their businesses and meet the growing demand for local, healthy and organic food. They also spur job creation, build healthy rural communities and support a new generation of farmers to replace the aging farmer population.
The Mikulsi-Murray-Reid proposal would also restore funding to the Conservation Stewardship Program for the 2013 farmer sign-up, funding that was inadvertently left out of the continuing resolution that is currently funding government programs.It would also provide immediate funding for livestock and other farm disaster assistance, another item left out of the fiscal cliff farm bill extension deal.
The bill would also remove all farm bill spending from the automatic budget cuts referred to as sequestration.Sequestration, which is scheduled to take effect on Friday, March 1, will otherwise reduce farm commodity and conservation program support by between $6 and $7 billion.
The letter’s signatories, including Community Food and Justice Coalition, Rural Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Family Farm Coalition, Environmental Working Group and Union of Concerned Scientists,“call on House, Senate, and White House leaders to work immediately toward a comprehensive deal that averts the sequester, finishes real appropriation bills for this fiscal year, and corrects the farm bill extension so that it actually extends the full farm bill while beginning the long overdue job of reforming subsidies.”
The groups also pledged to continue work with Congress to complete a full and fair farm bill that mitigates disasters, protects natural resources, provides equity and inclusion, constructs a new and economically viable future for agriculture and rural communities, and assures healthy food for all consumers.
Read the full letter here.