The federal farm bill — approved Wednesday by Congress — does more than set federal agricultural and food policy for five years.
To be sure, the bill that President Donald Trump is expected to sign maintains farming subsidies and crop insurance programs, which help the nation’s farmers. It also expands eligibility for those benefits, revising the definition of family to include first cousins, nieces and nephews.
But other groups are cheering the long-awaited passage of the legislation, including advocates for the Chesapeake Bay, food stamp recipients and the renewable energy industry.
Here’s how the farm bill helps them:
Chesapeake Bay advocates
The farm bill triples the amount of funding available for a program that helps farmers reduce how much fertilizer and sediment is washed off their fields by rain, into waterways and eventually into the bay. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program will receive at least $300 million a year under the latest farm bill, including $50 million more than was previously available for Maryland and other Chesapeake Bay watershed states that choose to participate, according to Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who introduced the provision.
The program helps pay for efforts to address flooding or drought, degradation in water or soil quality, and loss of wildlife habitat, including projects to create or preserve forest buffers between farmland and waterways, to plant cover crops and to rotate crops in a way that helps trap carbon in soil.
Joel Dunn, CEO of the Chesapeake Conservancy, said those sorts of projects are important to continue bay cleanup progress.
“The first 50 years of the Chesapeake Bay movement appropriately focused primarily on ‘point sources’ of pollution, such as sewage treatment plants, which produced great results. The next 50 years will undoubtedly focus in part on ‘non-point source’ pollution, such as runoff from farms and urban landscapes,” he said in a statement. “These funds will make a big difference in this effort.”
Food stamp recipients
Republicans, including Trump, had pressed for tighter work requirements on recipients of food stamps. But that provision was a sticking point in negotiations on Capitol Hill and was not included in the final version of the bill.
About 341,000 Maryland households participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP, receiving about $75 million in benefits in September, according to USDA data. That is about 7 percent fewer households and 3 percent less spending than a year earlier. The spending translated to $1.32 per person per meal in fiscal year 2017, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Advocates for food stamp recipients had warned that work requirements proposed in the House would have prevented many working poor from using the program, and conflicted with Maryland policies that gradually phase down food stamp benefits as earnings increase.
Renewable energy industry
The bill also includes a program that helps farmers invest in solar, wind or other “green” power projects. The Rural Energy for America Program is open to agricultural producers across the country and to any businesses in rural areas, offering grants and guaranteed loans.
Abigail Ross Hopper, former director of the Maryland Energy Administration and now CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the program has been used in all 50 states to help rural communities lower energy costs and improve energy efficiency.