The 2012 Farm Bill is still languishing in the House, with GOP leadership in the chamber intentionally preventing action on the legislation for political reasons. According to the New York Times, “House leaders declined to take up either [the Senate or the House] version of the legislation. They are not eager to force their members to take a vote that would be difficult for some of them, nor would they wish to pass a measure largely with Democrats’ votes right before an election.”
But without a new five-year Farm Bill or at least a temporary extension of current legislation, the Department of Agriculture may be forced to shutter almost all of its operations.
The Farm Bill serves as a mass funding mechanism for the USDA — it provides funding for roughly 90 percent of the Department’s operations, meaning those operations may have to shut down if the Farm Bill isn’t renewed. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Commission, the effect of even a temporary shutdown could be long-lasting:
USDA would be forced to occupy a multiple-month holding pattern, temporarily stopping many services and programs. Program administration involves a certain amount of planning and preparation, stakeholder input, rulemaking, and outreach. Even if program opportunities aren’t announced until later in the year, the preparation work that leads up to announcements takes time and certainty. Programs can’t simply be “turned off” and then “turned on” again with the expectation that program delivery and administration will not suffer.
The programs that the NSAC believe would be affected include “all the major programs for beginning and minority farmers, farmers markets, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and rural economic development” and new enrollment in the “the Wetland Reserve, Grassland Reserve, and Conservation Reserve Programs.” USDA programs funded by the Farm Bill are critical to addressing the crippling drought that has spread over four-fifths of the United States. The USDA also takes a lead role in shutting down brutal factory farms and administers the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a cost-effective food assistance program for needy families.
This isn’t to say that the House bill is necessarily worth passing in its current form — the House version contains, among other things, deep cuts to critical food stamp programs. But failure to pass at least a stopgap necessary to keep USDA could have dangerous consequences.