Farm Bill 101

One way that public health advocates can be successful, even in a difficult political climate, is by using any opportunity available to advance important policies. While the Farm Bill may sound foreign to those of us who didn’t grow up milking cows, it has expanded over the years to include priorities far beyond agriculture, and its reauthorization this year may present opportunities for many organizations to make progress.

What is in the Farm Bill?
The first Farm Bill was passed in 1933 and originally focused on farm commodity support for corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, peanuts, dairy, and sugar. In 1973, a nutrition title was added to the Farm Bill, which was the first major expansion of the legislation. That title includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR).

The 2018 Farm Bill (P.L. 115-334, H. Rept. 115-1072) contained twelve titles that set policy for the food and agriculture sectors and is set to expire on September 30, 2023. The bill’s titles include conservation, research, trade, rural development, and much more.

Farm Bill Budget for 2023
The Farm Bill authorizes both mandatory and discretionary programs. As with all authorizing legislation, the discretionary programs are funded through the annual appropriations process.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provides both a five-year and ten-year budget projection on the Farm Bill. In 2018, four titles accounted for 99 percent of the Farm Bill’s mandatory spending: Nutrition, Commodities, Crop Insurance, and Conservation. The remaining titles receive mainly discretionary spending.

The CBO also provides a baseline budget that lawmakers use to benchmark any proposed changes in the next iteration of the Farm Bill. The latest estimate is the February 2023 CBO baseline, estimated at $709 billion from over five years and $1.426 billion over ten years. An update to this baseline is expected to be released in Spring 2023. The Nutrition title is projected to be 85 percent of the baseline, which is an increase from the 76 percent in the 2018 Farm Bill due to pandemic-related changes made to the nutrition programs. There has also been emergency supplemental spending on Farm Bill programs in recent years, although this is not included in the baseline estimate.

Reauthorization Process for the 118th Congress
Congress has begun the process to reauthorize the Farm Bill in 2023. The House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee are the committees of jurisdiction. Both of these committees began holding hearings last year which have continued on in the 118th Congress; each hearing has focused on a different title of the Farm Bill. Both committees have also asked for public input on Farm Bill priorities, which have been collected through the committees’ websites.

Politics of Reauthorization
One thing that the fractious Republican conference agrees upon (in general, at least) is the need to reduce federal spending. However, much of the spending in the Farm Bill benefits agricultural interests in rural districts represented disproportionately by Republicans. It is a good bet that the Farm Bill will be exempt from the House majority’s zeal for budget cuts.

To learn more about how to advocate for your priorities in the Farm Bill, contact Stefanie Rinehart at [email protected].

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