SAF Government Relations Department:
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  • Brian Gamberini

  • SAF Legislative Action Center

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    June 21, 2013
     

    In a Stunning Vote, House Rejects the Farm Bill

    House Democrats and a group of small-government conservatives on Thursday defeated the Farm Bill (H.R. 1947), by a vote of 195-234, after days of late-night work and consideration of amendments. Specialty crop provisions important to the floral industry remained in the bill, but their future is uncertain unless the House can agree on a path forward.

    Only 24 Democrats voted for the measure, while 62 Republicans voted against it.

    In general, both Republican and Democratic representatives from agriculturally important districts supported the bill, while urban representatives opted to vote against it, considering the SNAP (“food stamp”) provisions either too large or not large enough. Click here to see how your representative voted. 

     “The defeat of the House bill is shocking,” says SAF’s Lin Schmale. “We had a strong, bipartisan bill for specialty crops and indeed for all of agriculture.  We can only hope that the House leadership and the House Agriculture Committee can figure out a way to move something forward before the current bill expires on September 30.”

    The House bill would have cut the SNAP program by $20.5 billion, far more than the Senate-passed bill.  Agriculture ranking Democrat Collin C. Peterson, of Minnesota, said after the vote that the adoption of a Rep. Steve Southerland (R-2-Fla.), amendment to mandate work requirements for SNAP recipients was the last straw for Democrats. Even very conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) lamented the bill’s failure, saying “Some of them seem to think that if we hold out we will actually get larger cuts in food stamps.”

    Several of the current law’s specialty crop programs are now at risk, including the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the National Clean Plant Network, both of which expired at the end of 2012. SAF members lobbied for these measures during Congressional Action Days last March. 

    An extension of the current law would renew contentious annual direct payments to row-crop farmers, and revert to the 1949 dairy support program, causing milk prices to rise to about $7/gallon, according to analysts. By contrast, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the House bill would have saved about $15 billion more in reforms to the SNAP program than would the Senate-passed bill.  The House bill, estimated to cost $940 billion over 10 years, would have expanded federal crop insurance by nearly $9 billion, relying more on that program to help farmers manage risk.

    “This is a sad example of what happens when the far left and the far right both refuse to come to the middle,” Schmale said. “We can only keep working to try to advance the important issues in this legislation that matter to our industry."

     

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    Immigration Fight Continues in the Senate; Breakthrough on Border Security

    As the full Senate continues its debate on immigration reform, a bipartisan agreement on securing the border was announced, adding to the momentum for passage.  A strong vote in the Senate will send a positive signal to the House, where support for a full comprehensive package is much less certain.

    In the House, the Judiciary Committee this week approved on a party-line vote a new agricultural guestworker bill, continuing its incremental approach to immigration overhaul.  However, that bill contains many provisions which would make it unacceptable to worker advocates, and is thus unlikely to ever pass the full House.

    The Agriculture Workforce Coalition this week continued to urge unity around the compromise provision reached between the Coalition, including SAF, and the United Farm Workers.  With less than two percent of the public engaged in agriculture, it is particularly important that agriculture remain united.

    Passage of immigration reform this year is by no means a foregone conclusion. Now is the time to make your voice heard.  We’ve asked you to write countless times, and for those of you who have done so, thank you very much. But if you haven’t written, please go to www.safnow.org,  click on Write to Congress, and access the pre-written email, which you can edit as you see fit. It only takes about five minutes.  Your letter could make the difference.

     

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    ACA Question of the Week

    SAF’s weekly column featuring responses to member questions about the Affordable Care Act

    Q: Do H-2A workers (agriculture visas) classify as seasonal workers
    under the ACA?
    - Grower, June 2013

    SAF’s Response:

    Regulations issued earlier this year gave employers the flexibility to make "reasonable, good faith" interpretations of seasonal workers.  However, they also made pointed at the definition of seasonal workers put forth in the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) as a basic guideline.

    Unfortunately, the reference made to MSPA (29 CFR 500.20(s)(1)) specifically excludes H-2A workers, categorizing them with migrant workers, immediate family members of agricultural employers and farm labor contractors as being ineligible for the purposes of determining seasonality.  

    Though the definition contained in MSPA was designed to specifically address seasonal labor in agriculture, it’s broader use as a guideline for employers in all industries to determine seasonality is challenging for ag employers.  As a result, and to your question, determining whether an H-2A worker can be considered seasonal is unclear.  

    Treasury/IRS has "reserved" the definition of seasonal employee, meaning that they have not yet defined what constitutes seasonal employment for the purposes of the ACA.  We advise that you prepare for the possibility that H-2A workers would not be considered seasonal employees when the IRS makes a final determination.

    In the meantime, SAF will continue to work with other agricultural employer groups to educate/get clarification from Treasury/IRS on this matter.  Stay tuned.

    For more information about the Affordable Care Act and its potential effects on your business, visit the SAF Health Care Resource Center.  For questions, contact Corey Connors at cconnors@safnow.org.

     

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