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USDA on Farm Bill: Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good

05:19AM May 18, 2018

USDA Under Secretary Stephen Censky is sending a message to the House of Agriculture, just ahead of a possible Farm Bill vote on Friday.( Farm Journal )

As GOP leadership pushes to drum up enough votes to pass the Farm Bill yet this week, the Freedom Caucus threw a wrench in those plans. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said Thursday that his members will not support the Farm Bill until a vote is held on controversial immigration legislation.

The President tweeted late Thursday urging the House to pass the bill, saying “The House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements. We must support our nation’s great farmers!”

That support is coming from more than just the White House. U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky told U.S Farm Report that while the House works to vote on a bevy of amendments Thursday and Friday, he knows there are a number of tough votes that the GOP needs to clinch. Censky says while the House weighs in amendment by amendment, the message from the administration has been the same: the White House supports the Farm Bill.

“We ought not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Censky.

“There's always something that someone can object to - it doesn't do enough of this or too much of that. Our bottom line is that we think that it that the Farm Bill provides a good safety net for farmers with risk management tools and also helps strengthen the work requirements under the SNAP program.”

It’s the work requirements surrounding SNAP that’s been a contentious issue, with democrats not willing to budge on the matter. Censky threw his support behind House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, saying the House’s version of the Farm Bill is consistent with the president's executive order on enhancing or reforming welfare. He says the bill proposes to invest in employment training to help SNAP recipients “get on the path to self-sufficiency.”

“It doesn't say just go out and work,” said Censky. “It also invests significant new dollars in helping to train people, to give money to states who can develop job training programs and skill-training programs to put people back to work.”

Censky says that is the administration’s’ ultimate goal: to provide the skills and training to be self-sufficient.

On the farm side of the legislation, the House is proposing to roll the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is the largest working lands program, into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Censky says that’s to try to help simplify the application processes, which is important to producers and land owners.

“We do think that there's going to be good funding there to put good conservation on the ground and help farmers do what they need to do on their land,” he says.

Looking at the potential changes to the safety net portion of the bill, Censky says the changes provide support for farmers.

“It's not a revolutionary farm bill, but it's rather evolutionary as it does make some changes - some small changes - and enhancements to both the PLC and the ARC programs, which producers rely on,” says Censky.