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Outgoing USDA officials urged to issue
new rules, but topic may be punted to new Obama team
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farm-state lawmakers are urging USDA to write regulations that would tighten
the definition of “actively engaged” in an effort to better
target farm program payments/subsidies to farmers and ranchers who spend
a designated time on farming operations.
Only those who meet the definition of actively engaged can
qualify for farm program payments. USDA tried unsuccessfully
several years ago to tighten the rules, but Congress again via the 2008
Farm Bill threw the issue back to USDA – the manager’s statement
included “actively engaged” among the criteria USDA should
consider in setting new eligibly guidelines for payments.
The outgoing Bush administration USDA
political officials are being pressed to finalize this topic before Jan.
20, when the Obama administration begins.
But others say the outgoing team may well punt the matter to
the new incoming USDA officials and the Obama administration.
If so, this would be one of the more important issues the incoming Obama
agriculture policy officials – and some career USDA staffers –
must eventually confront.
The push and push back. Some
lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.) want USDA to tighten
the definition of “actively engaged” in part by specifying
a minimum number of hours that a potential program participant must spend
farming or managing a farm operation.
But push back is coming from other lawmakers, including Southern
legislators, who argue this would not be equitable for those
maintaining several jobs to make ends meet -- 64 House members, many
from the South, signed a letter to USDA last month opposing any change
to the definition of an actively engaged farmer.
Senators opposing changes said the while the 2008 Farm Bill requires
major significant reforms in payment limitations and eligibility, it
does not require changes in the way individuals or entities are determined
to be “actively-engaged-in-farming.” That added that implementation
of two new income tests and direct attribution will cause significant
challenges and require adjustments for many farming operations.
End around. A 2004 survey
by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that while most large
farm operations meet the requirement by asserting active personal management,
there is no measurable, quantifiable standard for what constitutes active
personal management. That is one of the tasks USDA apparently will confront.
What the reformers want. Grassley and his Democratic
counterpart, Ag Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), want USDA to
detail measurable standards — such as a minimum number of hours
that must be spent working on or managing a farm — to prevent
payments from going to absentee farmers.
Comments: This issue is
far from over. Some think Obama's victory will provide "another chance"
to reform farm policy beyond the 2008 Farm Bill. But the history of this
issue shows that when you start to change rules on a major sensitive topic
like this, it's fight time in a Washington, even in a city that is so
tired of past battles.
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retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.