Last week, the omnibus spending bill, a bill that encompasses many different policies and programs, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump. The $1.3 trillion appropriations bill is connected to the agricultural industry through its multiple ag-related programs; however, it is different than the Farm Bill we have been discussing the past couple of months.
What does the omnibus bill cover regarding agriculture?
The 2018 omnibus bill includes provisions on:
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA) reporting: A provision would relieve livestock producers of the emissions reporting requirements under CERCLA, protecting 200,000 farms and ranches around the country. Many livestock organizations have been urging affiliates and members to support stand-alone legislation in the House and Senate that would also exempt agricultural producers from CERCLA reporting requirements.
- Electronic logging devices: The bill includes a provision that would grant livestock haulers an exemption from ELDs until Sept. 30, 2018. A further delay will provide the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) more time to educate our livestock haulers on the ELDs while industry works on solutions to the current Hours of Service rules that do not currently work for those truckers driving livestock across the nation. In September 2017 allied groups petitioned the Department of Transportation for ELD waiver and asked Congress to support one-year delay of ELD implementation for livestock haulers. In November 2017 a 90-day waiver from ELD implementation was secured. This month, there was another successful petition for 90-day wavier from ELD implementation.
- Section 199A: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December 2017 was meant to spur economic growth across the entire American economy, including the agriculture sector, and its positive results can already be felt. However, the unintended consequences of Section 199A, originally designed to preserve benefits for cooperatives and their patrons, disadvantaged the independent operators in the same industry. Many members of the agriculture community began to raise questions about the potential market effects on cooperatives and independent grain-related businesses. The solution passed by Congress, to equalize federal tax treatment of cooperatives and non-cooperates, is overwhelmingly supported throughout the agriculture community.
- Broadband funding: According to the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed Internet are in rural areas. The omnibus bill included $600 million in appropriated funding for a new pilot grant and loan combination program, administered by the USDA, to provide broadband to under-served rural and tribal areas. This investment will leverage nearly $1 billion in total new rural broadband projects.
- Additionally, the FY18 omnibus bill included robust funding levels for rural infrastructure. The $1 billion in allocated funds will equate to $4.7 billion more rural infrastructure projects than were funded last year. The total FY18 investment in rural communities’ infrastructure through USDA programs will total $13.5 billion. Finally, the Forest Service will also receive a total of $449 million in appropriations for the rehabilitation of its infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and dams.
- The bill includes full funding — $300 million — for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has a significant impact on Ohio and agriculture in the state.
What else does the omnibus spending bill cover for agriculture agencies?
For a complete summary of the programs and funding for agricultural agencies on the 2018 bill, follow this link. “The agreement contains $146.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $9.4 billion below the budget request and $7.6 billion below the FY2017 enacted level. The discretionary funding portion of the bill totals $23.259 billion, $2.382 billion above the FY2017 enacted level. Required mandatory spending in the bill, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, totals $122.8 billion.” This includes funding for child nutrition, Farm Service Agency and international programs.
How does it affect the Farm Bill?
The spending bill allowed talks of the Farm Bill, which are still currently stalled, some more time. Congress was no longer tied up with two huge bills once this one was passed, and it extends assistance to the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Additionally, the programs implemented on the spending bill give extra support to similar programs to the Farm Bill. There is crossover in certain areas — think rural broadband and conservation — but aren’t the exact same programs. Most importantly, the spending bill complements the Farm Bill, giving additional support to agriculture policies. According to feedstuffs.com, “From an overall funding standpoint, for agricultural agencies, the bill contains $146.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $9.4 billion below the budget request and $7.6 billion below the fiscal 2017 enacted level.”
With the omnibus spending bill’s passing, hopefully, the Farm Bill can reach a bipartisan agreement by the end of April.
Markie Hageman is a senior, majoring in agribusiness, at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Follow her series exploring various parts of the next Farm Bill.