By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, January 29, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new version of the long delayed Farm Bill. U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery said that the passage of the new Farm Bill is a victory for Alabama. Rep. Roby said that the bill includes long-needed reforms to farm and food stamp policy.
Congresswoman Roby applauded the House passage of a new five-year Farm Bill. In a written statement Roby highlighted the significant victories for Alabama-specific agricultural products and the inclusion of long-needed reforms to federal programs that rein in spending.
Rep. Roby said, “After three years of hard work, today the House finally passed a Farm Bill that provides certainty for our nation’s farmers and institutes money-saving reforms to agriculture and nutrition policy that we’ve needed for some time. This bill is a win for Alabama farmers and foresters. It is also a win for taxpayers. The Farm Bill replaces outdated policies left over from the Pelosi-led Congress and represents a positive step toward fiscal responsibility.”
Rep. Roby said that overall, reforms contained in the new five-year Farm Bill save taxpayers more than $23 billion. The conservative Alabama Congresswoman said, “The United States needs nutrition policy that makes sense. Food stamps have played and will continue to play an important role in taking care of our most needy Americans. But the program exists to help lift up those who have hit bottom, not to keep them there. That’s why it is concerning that over the past five years food stamp rolls have more than doubled.”
Rep. Roby said, “Like President Reagan said, the success of our welfare programs should be measured not by how many the government can enroll, but by how many families can get off assistance and become self-reliant. Work toward that goal certainly continues, but reforms contained in this Farm Bill are a major step in the right direction.”
Rep. Roby has spent the last three years on the House Committee on Agriculture where she helped craft the Farm Bill. Despite moving recently to the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Roby still continued to serve on the Conference Committee that worked through the differences of the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill.
The previous Farm Bill was passed in 2008 and expired in 2012 and has been extended while the Republican controlled House and Democratic controlled Senate have promoted various different versions of the farm bill.
The Farm Bill contains reforms to the food stamp program. Rep. Roby promoted a provision ensuring that illegal aliens cannot fraudulently obtain food stamps by requiring the use of E-Verify. The bill also instituted efforts to help food stamp recipients secure employment through job training and other services and closed the LIHEAP loophole which allowed states to game the system and artificially increase benefit levels and cracked down on trafficking and fraud.
Rep. Roby said that the bill also strengthened crop insurance by allowing farmers to invest in their own risk management policies and repealed outdated programs and consolidates duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations.
The bill includes a provision Rep. Roby advocated reducing the amount of land allowed into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and restricted land allowed in the program, which pays farmers not to plant anything, to less fertile properties. Landowners have been paid for years not to plant crops on fertile cropland. Getting more fertile land into production will help rural communities while reserving CRP funds for land that is more of an erosion risk.
The bill also contained a provision championed by Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama that lifts restrictions on irrigation access for Alabama farmers.
Critics of the Farm Bill including the Heritage Foundation argue that the provisions in the Farm Bill should be brought before Congress and voted on their individual merits. Food Stamps, the dairy program, honey bee legislation, the CRP, crop insurance, etc. are all bundled together and then Congress has an up or down vote on the whole bill.
The Farm Bill passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 251 to 166. All seven members of the Alabama House delegation voted in favor of the bill.