The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed its bipartisan version of the farm bill, which includes many of the provisions NCBA CLUSA has worked to preserve or add, among them the anchor programs of U.S. investments in domestic cooperative development and foreign assistance.
In passing the sprawling $867 billion bill by a vote of 86-11, lawmakers reauthorized the Rural Cooperative Development Grant (RCDG) program, the only federal program dedicated to advancing the impact of cooperative businesses nationwide.
Critical to NCBA CLUSA’s international work, the bill reauthorizes America’s flagship food aid program, Food for Peace, at $365 million and makes essential policy improvements. The bill also extends Food for Progress through 2023, adding nearly $40 million in mandatory funding to reduce reliance on monetization to fund the program. NCBA CLUSA’s development programs funded by Food for Progress in El Salvador, Senegal, the Dominican Republic and East Timor have impacted more than 100 thousand farmers and their families.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Farmer-to-Farmer program is also part of this bill. In 2017, NCBA CLUSA volunteers donated 676 days in technical skills training under the Farmer-to-Farmer program.
“This legislation is an important step in providing critical policy to support people who seek to use the cooperative business model to participate in their businesses and grow their local economies,” said Doug O’Brien, president and CEO of NCBA CLUSA. “We are particularly pleased that the legislation recognizes cooperatives as a critical driver for the U.S. economy and as a tool to create more sustainable communities worldwide.”
NCBA CLUSA is also pleased to see language in the farm bill that specifically directs USDA to include data from the Economic Census to cooperative research agreements, the only resource of its kind to report on the national impact of cooperatives across all sectors of the economy. Thanks to the work of NCBA CLUSA’s Interagency Working Group on Cooperative Development, that data will—for the first time in more than a decade—include federally-reported information on the country’s estimated 40,000 cooperatives.
Another key provision is the Rural Jobs and Investment Act, added to the bill as an amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The act creates a Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant program—a direct result of priorities outlined at the Farm Bill Rural Development Innovation Summit, co-hosted in March by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), the New America Public Interest Technology team and NCBA CLUSA. Cooperative Development Organizations are expressly eligible to receive support under the RISE grant program, which is designed to grow regional economies.
The inclusion of cooperatives in the new grant program comes after NCBA CLUSA delivered a letter to lawmakers on Capitol Hill in April, urging them to consider access to capital, infrastructure and innovation—three fundamental priorities identified during the summit—when making policy decisions designed to revitalize rural America.
“We appreciate that the Senate considered and adopted a number of our key recommendations stemming from the Farm Bill Rural Development Innovation Summit, and we stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration as the legislation moves forward,” O’Brien said.
Lawmakers will meet later this summer to reconcile considerable differences between the House and Senate bills. The compromise bill must then pass each chamber again before heading to the president’s desk. The current farm bill is set to expire on September 30.
Since 1916, the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA) has served as the national voice of the nation’s 40,000 cooperative businesses. As a collaborative partner in, advocate for and driver of an inclusive economy, NCBA CLUSA works both domestically and internationally to build a better world in which people are empowered to contribute to shared prosperity and well-being for themselves and future generations. More at ncbaclusa.coop.