KC Currents
10:25 am
Fri October 4, 2013

The Farm Bill Expired This Week, What Does That Mean For You?

Credit Bruce Liese / KCUR

You may have heard that the farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, but chances are, you probably haven’t noticed. The farm bill is buried in Washington under a mountain of significant and controversial legislation, from the government shutdown to the debt ceiling, and likely won’t be in the headlines any time soon.

The farm bill, a package of legislation that includes funding for important farm programs like crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), is itself a huge and important bill. It contains almost $1 trillion in spending and many people depend on its programs – both farmers and food stamp recipients. But the most dire effects of not having a farm bill won’t take place for a few months. 

Here’s what the expiration of the farm bill means for now:

  • Food stamps continue as normal

The fight over the farm bill largely centers on funding for food stamps, but the USDA won’t run out of money for the program soon. So even without a farm bill in operation, SNAP recipients should still have access to nutrition assistance.

Food stamps may, however, stand in the way of a new farm bill. The Senate wants to cut about $400 million annually from the $80 billion program. The House wants ten-times the cuts, $4 billion a year. That’s mostly what has kept Congress from authoring a new farm bill.

  • Farmers can still depend on crop insurance

Crop insurance is the most vital aspect of the farm safety net and it’s a hugely popular program. The federal government subsidizes private insurance companies in order to provide crop insurance for the nation’s farmers and virtually guarantee a large part of their income. Because the crop insurance program runs on the crop year, there shouldn’t be any issues until planting season in the spring.

That’s not to say that farmers haven’t yet been affected. Dairy farmers won’t have access to disaster aid for livestock producers. An important program that encourages farmers to preserve natural land won’t be in operation. And grants that help businesses in rural areas won’t be available.

  • The “Dairy Cliff” is back

On Jan. 1, the U.S. will revert back to farm policy crafted in 1949. Technically, that is the law of the land – we’ve just been delaying it by passing farm bills since then.

As you might imagine, 1949 was a very different time and implementing agriculture policy from that era could be a disaster. One of the biggest issues is that it would likely cause milk prices to double because it would force the government to buy vast amounts of milk at inflated prices. AKA, the Dairy Cliff.

Last year, Congress passed a quick-fix extension to the previous farm bill early on New Year’s Day to avert the Dairy Cliff and other issues, but who knows what the next few months has in store.

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