Despite Congress being adjourned until after the November mid-term elections, House and Senate conference committee negotiations continue among Congressional staff on the 2018 Farm Bill. Many in Congress remain hopeful that a final bill can be brought to a vote before the end of this Congressional Session in December.
NACWA is continuing to meet with House and Senate Agriculture Committee staff to ensure final inclusion in the Farm Bill of several of NACWA’s clean water priorities that are currently in the Senate and House-passed versions before the Conference Committee. During recent discussions, NACWA was pleased to learn that many of its members’ priorities appear to be in good position for final inclusion within the bill and that progress towards a final compromise on the overall Farm Bill is taking place.
However, NACWA encourages its members to continue reaching out to their respective congressional representatives, as well as those on the Conference Committee, about the importance of the clean water and conservation Farm Bill provisions to the public clean water sector. Utilities can also share information about the collaborative work they may be doing in their watershed to advance water quality. NACWA outlined these provisions in a recent letter to the Agriculture Committee leadership.
The previous five-year Farm Bill expired September 30, meaning that for the last several weeks there has been significant uncertainty about whether and how various Farm Bill-authorized programs can continue operating. NACWA attended a recent meeting with US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) leadership where the agency provided updates on key programs. Certain conservation programs cannot register new applicants, and new funding announcements are on hold. For example, for the popular Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), existing projects can continue in most cases, but a 2019 Funding Announcement is not going out on schedule because of potential changes that could be made to RCPP in the Farm Bill. The Congressional Research Service has summarized the Farm Bill expiration situation and prepared a detailed analysis of the impact for those interested.
The uncertainty surrounding USDA programs underscores the importance of Congress passing a full reauthorization of the Farm Bill by the end of 2018. If not, farmers and the conservation community will face further program disruptions and uncertainty.
Also at the meeting, USDA staff discussed the rollout of the Farm Production and Conservation Business Center, which is happening this week. Its implementation is part of a multi-year effort to operate USDA programs more efficiently and effectively, and to better leverage USDA staff and resources.
NACWA’s legislative staff will continue its engagement with Congress throughout the remainder of the Farm Bill process and provide updates as they occur. In the meantime, please contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Directors, with questions or further details on Congressional outreach.