Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is asking the Government Accountability Office to review the effectiveness of what he calls "modest reforms" to the so-called actively engaged rule in the 2014 farm bill, as it pertains to determining farm program eligibility.
For years Grassley has been pushing for more-complete reform to eligibility rules that currently allow non-family farm members to access farm programs, essentially nudging out young farmers.
Both chambers of Congress approved reforms to the actively engaged rule as part of the 2014 farm bill, which would have eliminated non-farming managers to one per farm entity.
During a conference call with agriculture journalists on Tuesday, Grassley said the reform essentially was "gutted" and replaced with instructions to USDA that restricted the department's ability to fix safety net abuses.
Grassley said the conferees broke a conference rule in 2014 that essentially limits legislative compromises to those issues where the House and Senate disagree. Both sides of Congress agreed to the one-per-farm entity limit during the 2014 farm bill conference.
Grassley wants the GAO to review how the last-minute change during the farm bill debate affected farm programs.
"Farmers using non-family farm members are only helping themselves," Grassley said. "I'm not going to give up this fight. I still have young farmers write to me saying they can't get into farm programs. Big farms are getting bigger. Removing non-farmers from the system is low-hanging fruit."
Grassley said the Congressional conference on the 2014 farm bill consisted of three of four members from Southern states. "They didn't like what I proposed," he said.
Although the 2014 conferees violated the rules, Grassley said there's not much that can be done to correct it.
"Secretary (Tom) Vilsack did as best he could when he tried to write fairly strict rules, but it affected just a few people," Grassley said.
In 2013 the GAO found that USDA rules make it difficult to track whether farmers are following the actively engaged rule.
"Compliance reviews conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency to determine if farming operation members (individuals and entities) meet the payment requirements for being actively engaged in farming are hindered by broad and subjective requirements and difficulty in verifying individuals' evidence of claimed contributions," the report concluded, http://www.gao.gov/….
"To be actively engaged in farming, an individual is to make significant contributions to that operation in personal labor or active personal management (or both)," the GAO said.
"However, the definition of active personal management in FSA regulations is broad and can be satisfied by an individual performing at least one of eight services representing categories such as supervision of activities necessary in the farming operation."
In 2012, the 50 farm entities receiving the highest farm program payments had an average of about $395,000 in payments and about 10 individual members claiming contributions, the GAO found.
In April 2016 Grassley introduced the "Farm Payment Loophole Elimination Act" to close the farm subsidy loophole.
The bill eliminated from the 2014 farm bill language that allowed for non-farmers, who happen to be family members but aren't involved in the work or management of the farm or own farm land, to receive farm subsidy payments.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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