They may be like close friends or family members. They may be like distant cousins whose first name you could never remember. Or they may be like folks on the other side of the county that you never heard of. But instead of people they are 37 programs in the 2008 Farm Bill that will expire in a couple years because there’s no guaranteed funding after September 2012. Should they expire like a worthless option at the Board of Trade or should there be an effort to fund them at any cost? That’s up to you, and your fellow U.S. taxpayers.
As the political winds threaten to keep a tighter grip on the U.S. Treasury purse strings, many programs in the federal government will disappear due to lack of funds. At least three dozen of those may quickly be cited in the USDA budget. The Congressional Research Service has identified the programs, which cost the taxpayer between $9 and $10 billion to operate. The CRS report says the 37 programs had received mandatory funding for the life of the 2008 Farm Bill, but there’s no budget baseline to carry them beyond 2012, such as public feeding programs, direct payments or crop insurance. Their cost is about 4 percent of the $283 billion, five-year Farm Bill or 11 percent of the cost if the $100 billion nutrition title is removed.
CRS farm specialist Jim Monke says the largest one is the permanent disaster-assistance program, which was budgeted for $4.8 billion in the farm bill, but which would be continued at $3.7 billion based on estimates made last March.
There also are five conservation programs that were initially funded at $2.105 billion, but would require $3.2 billion in the next farm bill if they were continued.
When members of the House and Senate agriculture committees begin to look at the programs and whether they should be funded, Monke says the decision-making process will be something like this:
“If selected for continuation, would the program continue at its current higher cost or be redesigned in the next farm bill to cost less? Which of the two approaches is better depends on whether one believes Congress would change program parameters, for example, to reduce a program that has become more expensive than initially expected or whether Congress would continue current program provisions and pay a higher cost than in 2008 when extending a program.”
Monke says some of the programs are pilot programs or are new programs without a large constituency. He points to six that are bio-energy programs, five of which are related to specialty crops or beginning and minority farmers. However, the wetlands-reserve and the grasslands-reserve programs have been well established for many years.
If any of the programs are to be continued, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have to pay for them from the funding that has been allocated for farm programs, and cannot be funded from any “new” money. Other programs have to be reduced or sacrificed to pay for the 37 which are nearing expiration.
For example, the Conservation programs that are within the 37 expiring are: Wetlands Reserve, Grasslands Reserve, Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program and Desert Terminal Lakes. In the farm bill’s Rural Development sector, programs destined for termination include: Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program, Funding of Pending Rural Development Loan and Grant Applications and Value-Added Agricultural Market Development Program Grants.
Monke reports that one program that ends a year before the farm bill expires is the supplemental agricultural-disaster-assistance program, which was created in the 2008 Farm Bill. He says it was authorized in an effort to end the ad hoc crop disaster assistance. Another is the ethanol blenders’ tax credit, which expires at the end of December.
So in the end, the current Farm Bill has $283 billion worth of programs over its five-year life, most of which will continue into the next farm bill. But there are 37 programs worth $9 to $10 billion which are destined for expiration because there are no provisions to continue funding. Included are the permanent disaster program and the wetlands reserve program. Some are pilot programs, but there are more than $2 billion worth of conservation programs, the $4 billion disaster program and a variety of small organic programs.