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Counties Win Major Victories in Farm Bill

Posted Date: 
February 7, 2014
Arthur Scott, Associate Legislative Director, National Association of Counties

The five-year farm bill, signed into law Feb. 7, contains sev­eral critical county priorities including FY14 funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, reauthorization of vital programs within the rural development title.

It includes programs that as­sist counties in the development of rural water-wastewater infra­structure, community facilities, broadband expansion, nutrition assistance, renewable energy, local and regional food systems, sup­port for new farmers and business development initiatives.

"The new farm bill counts as a major win for the nation’s counties and the residents we serve,” said NACo President Linda Langston. “It cannot be overstated how im­portant 2014 PILT program fund­ing and reauthorization of county-supported rural development programs are to local economies as we work to emerge from years of recession and slow economic growth."

Specifically, the farm bill will provide:

  • $435 million PILT funding for FY14, which is a $35 million increase over FY13 funding (post-sequestration). PILT payments al­low local governments with federal land in their jurisdictions, including 1,850 counties in 49 states, to pro­vide critical services for residents, such as education, solid waste dis­posal, law enforcement, search and​ rescue, health care, environmental compliance, firefighting and parks and recreation, and
  • $228 million in mandatory funding for the rural development title, including language that would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prioritize up to 10 percent of their funds for multi-jurisdictional projects.

In other county-related issues, the legislation codifies EPA’s long-standing policy that specific silvicultural (forest management) activities do not require National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. The lan­guage in the farm bill permanently bars citizen suits for forest roads and silviculture activities under EPA’s storm water program. The language was proposed as a result of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) case, which involved two county roads.

The nutrition title in the con-ference report preserves the three provisions supported by NACo, listed below, but adds a new requirement to the performance bonus provision:

  • States will continue to have the flexibility to apply categorical eligibility to families that receive non-cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant
  • The secretary of agriculture retains the authority to grant waiv­ers to states with high unemploy­ment from the three-month benefit limit for single adults, and
  • The performance bonus pay­ments would continue, but states will need to reinvest them in fraud and abuse prevention.

On the funding side, the Sup­plemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be reduced by $8 billion over 10 years in the conference report. The $8 billion in savings would be achieved by increasing the minimum Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit level that would allow individuals to automatically qualify for SNAP.

Under current law, states can automatically enroll individuals in SNAP if those individuals receive LIHEAP benefits. This permitted some states to give nominal LIHEAP benefits — as low as $1 — to some residents so that those residents would automatically qualify for SNAP. The conference report would set a minimum benefit level of $20. 

When he signed the five-year farm bill, Presdient Obama also unveiled a new initiative -- Made in Rural America -- aimed at helping American farmers and rural businesses boost exports. NACo is participating in this program by coordinating with the White House Rural Council, U.S. Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission on a series of forums, conferences and training programs over the next year.

Over the next nine months, key stakeholders will focus on the following areas of engagement:

"Made in Rural America" Regional Forum

These regional forums will promote rural exports by helping rural leaders and businesses take advantage of new market opportunities and providing training from experienced exporters and federal officials on the basics of exporting, accessing federal support, and participating in major domestic and international trade events and trade shows.  

"Investing in Rural America" Conference

This conference will connect major investors with rural business leaders, high-level government officials, economic development experts, and other partners.  This conference will promote investment opportunities in Rural America by highlighting successful projects in energy; biofuels and bioproducts; infrastructure, from transportation to water systems to telecommunications; healthcare; manufacturing; and local and regional food systems.

Training Sessions to Equip Local USDA Rural Development Staff

The Department of Commerce, through the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, will equip USDA Rural Development staff from all 50 states and territories with the tools they need to counsel businesses on export opportunities and resources.   

Enhanced Export Counseling for Rural Businesses

the Department of Commerce’s U.S. Export Assistance Center will connect rural businesses with foreign buyers through trade specialists in over 100 domestic locations and in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s field staff.

Educate Local Leaders Across the Country in Partnership with NACo

NACo, in coordination with the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, will educate local leaders on strategic export partnerships.  The stakeholders will also connect leaders with federal resources and information to better support rural businesses to develop their potential for exporting.

Arthur Scott | | (202) 942-4230