With the support of the entire Alabama delegation, the Farm Bill sailed through both chambers of Congress this week and has now been sent to President Donald Trump’s desk for signature.
The 2018 Farm Bill, which passed the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday, supports and sustains Alabama’s farmers and foresters by reauthorizing farm programs and directing the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years.
Here are the top ways the new Farm Bill will affect the Yellowhammer State:
- The Rural Health Liaison Act: establishes a rural health liaison at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate federal resources and expand health care access to Americans who have for too long struggled to receive quality, affordable care in their own communities.
- Fights the opioid crisis: Alabama is at Ground Zero in the opioid overdose crisis — last year the state had the highest national number of opioid prescriptions, more than the state’s total population, according to a report by insurance provider Blue Cross Blue Shield. The new Farm Bill fights the opioid crisis by opening up billions in financing opportunities for expanded telemedicine and community facility investments to provide critical treatment options for those who suffer from opioid addiction.
- CBD oil now legal: CBD derived from industrial hemp, with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent, can be legally produced, sold, and possessed in the state.
- Addresses deteriorating wastewater infrastructure: The bill provides grants of up to $15,000 to low- and moderate-income households in rural, underserved areas for installing or maintaining individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.
- Expands high-speed internet in rural communities: Provides new grants that will target areas most in need and connect communities with modern internet access. The bill increases funding from $25 million to $350 million per year – nearly 15 times the previous amount to provide loans and loan guarantees for broadband services in rural communities.
- The Community Connect grant program: authorizes $50 million annually for the USDA Community Connect Program, which provides broadband grants targeted to the most rural, unserved, and high-poverty communities in the country. The program expands high-speed internet by providing new grants that will connect unserved households and businesses with modern internet access and streamlines broadband application process.
Strengthening the diversity of American agriculture
- Protects crop insurance and expands coverage to new crops including fruits, vegetables, hops, and barley. The bill also improves crop insurance access for veterans, beginning farmers, and fruit and vegetable growers, and more than doubles the disaster assistance coverage options for crops that are not eligible for insurance.
- Improves risk management options for commodity crop farmers and dramatically expands the coverage for dairy farmers. Building on the $1.1 billion added to support dairy farmers in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the bill provides improved coverage options at more affordable rates and refunds up to $58 million in premiums paid under the former program.
- Expands export opportunities by securing an additional nearly $500 million in permanent funding over the next decade to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.
Protecting food access for families
- Protects access to food assistance for families in need by avoiding harmful benefits cuts and eligibility changes that would take away food and create obstacles for working families.
- Increases job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs the right way, while keeping out partisan changes to work requirements.
Farmers and ranchers
- The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act (S. 3117): requires the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues.
- Helps socially disadvantaged, veteran, and new and beginning farmers: combines initiatives to create $435 million in permanent funding – tripling the current investment – to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers as a part of the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program.