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Farm Bill Update

WASHINGTON—The Senate is expected to vote on S 3240, (the 2012 Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012), also known as the Farm bill, by the end of June.

However, the final vote will be subject to a large number of amendments that may have little to do with the subject matter of the bill, as well as significant partisan and regional opposition over certain provisions by Senators’ seeking to protect their states’ interests. 

In addition to setting the payment rates for farm subsidies, crop insurance, and commodity support programs, the Farm Bill also provides funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as the food stamp program. 

The bill is expected to cost $969 billion over the next ten years, a reduction of $25 billion over the 2008 bill.

The administration states that it supports the Farm bill and will sign it into law citing the food stamp program.  

Senate Democratic and Republican negotiators are trying to address their respective concerns about the legislation in the hopes that voting on the amendments and the final bill can begin next week. 

While approximately 250 amendments have been filed not all of those amendments will make it to consideration, debate, and voting.  

The act, which sets agriculture policy for the country for the next five years, would replace the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. 

The Farm Bill contains 12 titles that oversee commodity support, conservation, trade, nutrition, credit, rural development, research, extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, crop insurance, and other miscellaneous programs.

  • Title I restructures commodity support programs by replacing some farm support programs with an Agriculture Risk Coverage program for covered crops and reduces the caps to coverage. The title also moves disaster programs into a new Agriculture Risk Coverage program and makes significant changes to the dairy commodity support program by replacing the existing programs with the Dairy Production Margin Protection Program and a Dairy Market Stabilization Program.
  • Title II, reauthorizes the Conservation Reserve Program Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program, with limitations placed on acreage covered and available funds. This section also creates two new conservation programs, by combining older programs, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program made up of the old Wetlands Reserve Program the Farmland Protection Program, and the Grassland Reserve Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program made up of the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Chesapeake Bay Watershed program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program.
  • Title III amends and reauthorizes current law dealing with U.S. international food aid and agricultural export production programs.  The bill reauthorizes all international food aid programs, while amending food quality programs, and changing how emergency food programs function.
  • Title IV, nutrition programs, for the most part continues the existing Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 nutrition program policies and the mandatory funding levels. This title reauthorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program while making some changes to how the program operates to mitigate fraud.  The title also provides funding and sets policies for the Community Food Projects, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Hunger Free Communities Incentives Grants.
  • Title V, concerns the agricultural credit laws giving USDA authorization to act as the lender of last resort to provide direct and guaranteed loans to farms and ranchers under certain terms.
  • Title VI, concerns the Rural Development Programs and provides funding authorization for various loan and grants for rural development projects including broadband development, water development, and business programs.
  • Title VII authorizes research and extension programs.  This title continues USDA’s authorization to conduct agricultural research and to provide support for cooperative research, extension programs, and post secondary agricultural education. The title also funds a new non-profit corporation to augment USDA’s research.
  • Title VIII deals with forestry. While most forestry programs are permanently authorized, the Farm Bill does changes the funding mechanism for some programs to require specific appropriations as opposed to unlimited appropriations.
  • Title IX, is the energy title. The primary focus of this title is to provide incentives for entities that wish to conduct research, develop, or adopt renewable energy project. In addition, the title provides mandatory funds for Renewable Energy for America Program, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative.
  • Title X relates to horticulture and reauthorizes many existing previous programs relating to the support of farming operations for specialty and organic crops while expanding farming operations support for local food systems (including beginning farmers).
  • Title XI makes significant changes to the crop insurance program by making subsidized policies available to producers who purchase protection against crop loss. 

The Farm Bill creates a new program for cotton farmers and expands the program out to specialty crops.

  • Title XII is a miscellaneous section that has programs that deal with socially disadvantaged and limited resources producers, liver stock and other issues. This title provides funds to the Office of Small Farms and Beginning Farmers to ensure that minorities, those with limited resources, veterans have access to all USDA programs and reauthorizes the Office of Advocacy and Outreach to help socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and those with limited resources. This title also reauthorizes livestock and aquatic disease management. 

Regarding tribally specific programs, the bill:

  • Updates the list of tribal institutions available for grants and changes the grant process.
  • Changes the process of providing loans to purchasers of highly fractionated land instead of authorizing the USDA to lend to Indian tribes or tribal corporations to buy highly fractioned land with the reservation, the new bill allows lending to intermediaries that may create revolving funds to relend to purchasers of highly fractionated land.
  • Repeals the tribal watershed forestry assistance program.
  • Reauthorizes the funding for water and waste facility loans and grants to alleviate health risks at $60 million in loan subsidies, $60 million in grants, and $20 million in grants for Tribal groups annually from fiscal 2013-2017 subject to appropriations.
  • Reauthorizes the Conservation Stewardship Program to provide technical assistance to promote conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, water, energy, plant, and animal life on private and tribal agricultural land.

The extent to which the Farm bill will have an affect on Navajo will have to be determined by the individual programs that receive funding through the USDA and Farm bill programs.

Conference Problems May Halt Domestic Violence and Transportation Bills

Washed out road near Pinon, Ariz. Photo courtesy Navajo Nation Division of Transportation

WASHINGTON—Technical problems with the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act have stalled congressional reauthorization of the bill.

The Senate passed its reauthorization of VAWA in April and following the House’s reauthorization in May it was expected to trigger conference negotiations.

During conference, selected conferees from the House and Senate meet to work out differences between the congressional versions.

Ultimately, conferees draft a finalized and cohesive version of the bill to be voted on by Congress and sent to the president to be signed into law.

At this time, the House will not allow conference negotiations to occur because of an ‘origination’ problem.

The problem stems from a provision of the Senate bill that calls for increasing fees on certain immigrant visas.

House leaders argue that the increased fee constitutes a ‘revenue provision.’ Under the U.S. Constitution, all revenue bills, including taxation and spending bills, must originate in the House.

Revenue bills that do not originate in the House will be ‘blue slipped’ and returned to the Senate as unconstitutional, therefore being unable to be reviewed by the House and unable to be made a law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could not agree on a strategy to correct the problem, stalling the bill from proceeding to conference.

Until, the Senate can agree on a way to fix their version of the bill, progress toward the reauthorization of VAWA is unlikely.

Reauthorization is not necessary for the continued funding of VAWA programs. However, without reauthorization, none of the important proposed VAWA reforms will be enacted into law.

Transportation Bill

Conference problems are also stalling the reauthorization of a national transportation bill. Unlike the unique issue that is keeping the VAWA reauthorization from reaching conference, the transportation bill may never leave conference.

Currently, the transportation bill is being debated between House and Senate conferees.

It does not appear that conferees will be able to agree on a finalized version of the bill in the immediate future.

Without a finalized bill, Congress will need to pass another federal transportation spending extension because the current extended authority will expire June 30.

A major concern is that if a finalized bill cannot be agreed upon by conferees and signed into law by January 3, 2013 the entire process will have to start again with the 113th Congress.

Historically, getting a bill to conference is a very lengthy procedure.

New Senate and House transportation bills would need to be drafted and passed by each chamber in order to trigger a new conference.

Once in conference there is no guarantee that a similar partisan stalemate will not ensue. Such an event would severely delay and perhaps jeopardize the countless programs within the transportation bill.

Fiscal 2013 Housing Appropriatons Update

WASHINGTON—On June 7, 2012, the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development voted to send their budget to the full Appropriations committee.

Under the bil, Indian Housing Block Grants funding through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act of 1996 will stay at the $650 million for fiscal 2013.

A vote on the bill before the full committee has not been scheduled. The level of funding supports President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget request.

The full THUD Senate Appropriation Committee voted out their bill April 19, 2012. 

They also set their Indian Housing Block Grants at the $650 million dollar level.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not scheduled the matter for a full Senate vote.

Historically, in presidential election years, Congress is unlikely to come to a final vote on appropriations, and a continuing resolution is anticipated, until after the November elections.

Pre-existing appropriation marks are important as compromise positions in budget negotiations.  Hence, similar House and Senate appropriation marks for Indian Housing Block Grants are a good forecast for potential funding for the continuing resolution.

The Navajo Nation will receive formula funding from the final budgeted amount.

Navajo Division of Transportation Advocates On Tribal Transportation Program

WASHINGTON—The Navajo Nation Division of Transportation (NNDOT) emphasized to House and Senate conferees in a letter last week, that further reform is needed to address the methods used to distribute federal transportation funding to Indian Country in pending transportation bill, S 1813 (Map-21), up for conference approval.

Being considered by the conferees is the proposed Tribal Transportation Program (TTP), which dissolves the current Indian Reservation Roads Program (IRR).

The NNDOT offered its limited support of the newly created TTP.

"While it is the best available attempt to correct administrative problems concerning the distribution of transportation funding throughout Indian Country, passage of the TTP might be detrimental to public policy in Indian Country because of extremely limited input from tribes,” NNDOT director Paulson Chaco said.

Currently, federal transportation funding for Indian Country is distributed by formulas under the IRR, which were finalized through a negotiated rule making process that included both consultation with tribal governments, and a tribal task force charged with development of the funding distribution formula.

The NNDOT is concerned that conference approval of the TTP will set a dangerous precedent for Indian Country, where Congress will invalidate Indian Country policy, crafted with direct and broad tribal contribution, for policy created with very limited or no tribal participation.

Additionally, the NNDOT questioned the practicality of the newly developed TTP funding distribution formula.

Under the TTP, funding is distributed with a large emphasis on population.

“This is an anomaly within federal funding for road projects to require a funding distribution formula for road creation projects based on population figures. Outside of Indian Country, distributions are determined by identifying ‘needs’ where there is a lack of viable roads there is a verifiable need,” Chaco stated.

Chaco said this also fails to consider the problem of transient tribal populations faced by the Navajo Nation and other rural large land based tribes.

Tribal citizens find themselves having to work off the reservation in border towns, or areas far removed from tribal land because of the lack of roads, economy and infrastructure.

However, these tribal citizens remain a part of their reservation communities as a transient population," Chaco said.

Tribal citizens will work off reservation during the week, returning home on weekends, vacations, and during breaks.

Their work related absence leads to the miscalculation of true population bases, which negatively impacts the federal transportation funding received by large rural land based tribes.

Chaco stressed that roads continuously and systematically maintained by state and county governments should be ineligible for funding under federal tribal transportation or roads programs.

“A significant flaw of the current IRR program is that non-BIA & non-tribal roads that are continuously and systematically maintained by state and county governments and are incidentally the main means of transportation for certain tribal communities, are eligible to receive federal funding specifically designated for reservation roads," Chaco said.

These non-BIA & non-tribal roads are not 'reservation roads,' and are therefore the responsibility of the municipalities of jurisdiction, not the tribes or the federal government.

Ultimately, extra funding is distributed for maintaining roads that are not the subject of the program’s congressional intent.

"Such activity constitutes taxpayer waste. While the TTP has set limitations to combat this issue, it fails to fully eradicate the problem,” Chaco said.

The NNDOT is supportive of the Map-21 Tribal Transportation Program as a temporary legislative action to partially correct a history of unforeseeable federal transportation funding distribution problems.

This is the first step to establishing a totally comprehensive method to distribute federal funds to Indian Country.


Tribes Participate in Federal Insurance Program, OMB Says

WASHINGTON—The Affordable Care Act allows tribal employees to participate in federal employee insurance programs (FEHB).

The Office of Management and Budget reports that thirty, mostly smaller, tribes have made the decision to participate in the program. Tribes may transition to the program at the beginning of any calendar month.

Each tribe must make its own determination if it is economically feasible for them to make the change to the FEHB.

Drew Trahms Joins the Washington Office as a Summer Intern

WASHINGTON—Drew Adelia Trahms joins the Navajo Nation Washington Office and will serve as an unpaid intern until August.

The Fund for American Studies Program partnership with Georgetown University places outstanding college students who demonstrate superior academic and leadership excellence at top internship locations in Washington, DC.

"Drew brings excellence in research. She's an outstanding addition to our team for the summer," NNWO executive director Clara Pratte said.

In conjunction with her internship at the Navajo Nation Washington Office, Trahms will focus on comparative economic systems and constitution interpretation while studying this summer at Georgetown University.

"I have a strong interest in Native American affairs. The Navajo Nation Washington Office is a great fit for me," Trahms said.

Originally from southern Minnesota, Trahms is a third-year, double-majored college student studying government/international affairs and economics with minors in mathematics and accounting at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Growing up in a family with multiple cultural backgrounds, she has fostered a desire to learn more about the different cultures found throughout the world and plans to one day pursue a masters degree in international economic development.

Drew has traveled extensively abroad serving indigenous communities of Mexico in 2004 and 2005, visiting western Europe as a People to People U.S. Student Ambassador in 2007, studying in Costa Rica during the summer of 2010, and serving as the student member of the Board of Trustees for Child Outreach International, an NGO based in Ojoche, Nicaragua.

While being heavily involved in a number of student organizations on campus including the student association, government club, and economics club, Trahms is a mentor to international students, a member of the Augustana Vikettes, and a teacher's assistant in economics and statistics.

During her free time, she assists refugees placed in Sioux Falls as they seek U.S. citizenship through Lutheran Social Services and she coaches for Girls on the Run of Sioux Falls.

This past spring, Drew served as an intern in the Sioux Falls district office of Representative Kristi Noem, R-S.D.

About the Navajo Nation Washington Office

Founded in 1984 and located on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, the Navajo Nation Washington Office (NNWO) serves as the Navajo Nation's advocate with Congress, the White House and Federal Agencies. The NNWO monitors and analyzes congressional legislation, disseminates congressional and federal agencies' information, develops strategies and decisions concerning national policies and budgets that affect the Navajo Nation.

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