From Curt Houk, Midwest Area Chair
On Wednesday, April 1st, DTN/The Progressive Farmer released an article about Whitehouse intentions to release ARC/PLC funding to the states in Block Grant format AND reduce the FSA workforce by some 2,000 employees. It was determined by FSA Management and the NASCOE Executive Board that the article was an April Fool’s joke. To avoid any possible confusion, the NASCOE President released the statement below:
While the DTN article about office closures and ARC/PLC block grants was an attempt at humor and not correct, it is important to contact membership and confirm this as it has generated a lot of comments. Please do this immediately. – Mark VanHoose, NASCOE President
It is also expected that FSA Management will release a statement early next week as well. The DTN article text can be found below or by going to:
White House Plans to Block Grant ARC-PLC to States
A proposal by the Obama Administration expected to be announced Wednesday will dramatically overhaul farm commodity and conservation programs by block-granting those funds to states.
Proposing what could become the biggest reform effort in farm programs since “Freedom to Farm,” the White House proposal would put states in charge of deciding which farmers receive price-support programs and set the conditions for who receives farm programs. The program change would go into effect sometime after farmers complete enrollment in Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, but may be delayed until after a new farm bill is written after 2018.
Responding to the congressional efforts to convert USDA nutritional programs to state block grants, the Obama administration projected that allowing states to decide how to divvy up federal funds to farmers is a cost-saving measure that the Republican-led Congress would embrace. The USDA proposal is projected to save $80 billion over 10 years.
“In doing some soul-searching, we came to the conclusion that block-granting federal safety-net programs to states offers a clear path to helping reduce federal spending,” said Can Cook, an Obama administration spokesman who discussed the issue with DTN only under the condition of anonymity. “Governors and state legislatures in the best position to decide how farm-program dollars should be spent and invested among farmers either as a safety net or to address soil and water conservation issues in their individual states.”
Looking to sweeten the pot to states, the ARC-PLC Block Grant Program would offer states incentives to reduce commodity-program payments and grant them authority to divert up to 20% of funds to other state needs. The plan also would allow states to shift farm-program payments to specialty-crop growers. The National Governors’ Association stated in a carefully-worded response that it is studying the proposal.
Factoring into the budget savings, the move would allow USDA to eliminate more than 2,000 Farm Service Agency offices nationally as well. “Once farmers complete enrollment in ARC and PLC, we feel confident we’ll be able to consolidate FSA work on an individual website that farmers can access.”
On paper, the plan would revise the rules for ARC and PLC so states can adjust how much farmers would receive based on factors such as local cash basis and farm income rules. States would be able to lift payment limits and remove arbitrary and capricious procedures such as actively-engaged rules. Yet states would be forced to receive smaller and smaller levels of support each year for commodity and conservation programs and would have to increase add state funds to make up the difference.
Obviously Congress would have an eventual say in the matter, but given the enthusiasm Congress demonstrated last week for block-granting the federal government to states, the administration believes Congress will resoundingly support the program change.
“Looking at the votes, it’s pretty clear Congress sees opportunities in delegating as much authority to states as possible as long as they can reduce spending,” said Cook, who emphasized that he was speaking only on background.
Savings for commodity and conservation programs would come as states tighten standards on those payments to avoid spending state tax dollars, according to a White House fact sheet.
House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders leaped to the defense of farmers once word leaked late Tuesday of the administration’s block-grant proposal, — despite their votes last week to block grant SNAP and Medicaid.
Other lawmakers rushed to praise the administration for its work to help shore up the federal budget.
“Another attempt by this administration to kill rural America,” said a spokesperson for the House Agriculture Committee. “The proposal to block grant the ARC and PLC programs is ill-timed and ill-advised. These programs provide a lifeline for farm families at a time when producers are faced with lower commodity prices,”
Harkening back to the days of the Dust Bowl, the Senate Agriculture Committee called for immediate hearings on why allowing states to decide which farmers should receive federal aid is a wrong-headed move. “With producers experiencing a staggering 43 percent drop in net farm income, allowing states to choose who gets farm-program assistance and who doesn’t will put further financial stress on the agriculture industry,” said a Senate Ag spokesperson.
At least 10 farm and commodity groups signed a joint letter late Tuesday opposing “the draconian cuts and structural changes” proposed for farm programs. “Farmers will clearly be harmed if the safety-net is weakened in such a manner,” said Sloof Lipra a spokesperson for the American Farmers Union Bureau.
Editor’s Note: This blog item was originally published April 1 and was intended as Chris Clayton’s annual April Fools’ Day joke.
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