On Wednesday, March 21, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced a bipartisan bill that would place a hard cap on farm payments and close current loopholes to ensure payments flow to working farmers. The Rural America Preservation Act of 2012 will restore integrity and fiscal responsibility to federal farm policy during this time of budgetary constraints, and NSAC will be advocating for its inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill.
The Rural America Preservation Act (RAPA) was previously introduced in June 2011, but key revisions have been made to ensure that the bill is relevant to likely farm bill changes in commodity programs, which will almost certainly include an end to direct payments and enactment of new types of payments to take their place. The bill is also sponsored by Senators Brown (D-OH), Gillibrand (D-NY), Enzi (R-WY), Harkin (D-IA), and Nelson (D-NE).
They say this senate bill will restore common sense rules to farm subsidies
"This bill is absolutely critical to targeting the expected $5 billion a year in 2012 Farm Bill farm payments to individuals actively involved in farming, with reasonable caps," said Juli Obudzinski, policy associate at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. "The current distribution of farm payments, with mega payments to mega farms and absentee passive investors, contributes to farm consolidation and the demise of family farms. The 2012 Farm Bill should put an end to this abuse."
RAPA is a cost-saving proposal that restores common-sense rules to farm programs, she says. The bill has two major provisions that, if enacted, will lower the per farm cap on farm commodity program payments and ensure that federal farm payments flow to working farmers.
The first provision would place a hard cap on commodity payments so that no farm couple can receive more than $250,000 per year in farm subsidies, capping payments at $100,000 and loan benefits at $150,000 a year. Currently, there are much higher statutory limits on payments, and none at all on loan benefits. This provision is written so that it will apply regardless of any types of new payments Congress may agree to in the new farm bill.
Second provision of this legislation would close other existing loopholes
The second provision of this bill will close existing loopholes that allow mega farms to collect far higher payments than current law would otherwise seem to allow. Current law contains a vague and unenforceable regulatory standard for "actively managing" farm operations that has foiled all attempts to target payments to working farmers. The bill addresses this by strictly limiting the circumstances under which individuals providing only management and no farm labor can benefit.
Closing the current management loophole is widely viewed by commodity program and legal experts as the linchpin to any attempt to stop current abusive practices that allow absentee and largely passive investors to receive millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
"A farm safety net aimed at the farmers it was originally intended to help is crucial to ensuring a safe and stable food supply. We simply cannot continue to see 10% of the biggest farmers get 70% of the farm payments. If we continue along this path, we're going to see support slide for a farm and nutrition bill, when it's just as critical as ever," said Senator Grassley.
Safety net was supposed to help family farmers; but big share goes to big farms
"The farm safety net was designed to help family farmers but it has increasingly led to a windfall for owners of our nation's largest farms. Congress should act to close the loopholes and better target payments to our small and mid-sized family farmers. This legislation represents our best chance to move forward with reforms as consideration of the farm bill continues," said Senator Johnson.
"NSAC commends Senators Grassley and Johnson for introducing this fiscally-responsible and common-sense piece of legislation," says Obudzinski. "This bill will ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent by targeting farm payments to family farmers. The bill will save money and also allow for targeted reinvestment in rural economies, beginning farmers, and agricultural research."
The Rural America Preservation Act is very similar to previous versions of the same bill offered by Senator Grassley during several previous farm bill debates, including one co-sponsored by former Senator Bryon Dorgan (D-ND) which won strong majority bipartisan support on the Senate floor in each of the past two farm bill debates.