Skip to main content

Farm Bill is good to go

Input needed on agriculture census before June 14 deadline

WASHINGTON - After last-minute travails, the farm bill, H.R. 2419 in the House of Representatives, has become law upon the bicameral override of a veto from President George W. Bush.

It is the first override of the president;s few vetoes. Though the votes to override were never in doubt, the bill's fate following the veto became uncertain because of a glitch unrelated to the vote or the veto - an enrolling clerk, moving the bill along to the White House after its passage by Congress, mistakenly excluded a passage in the bill, namely the full title concerning trade. Because the president vetoed only a partial bill, concern arose that the bill in its entirety would have to be passed all over again after two years of effort.

But the Washington Post newspaper reported that the House parliamentarian, relying on Supreme Court precedent, pretty much put the concerns to rest with a statement that the law left standing, so to speak, after an override vote ''would be the text that was presented to the president on parchment, notwithstanding its omission of the congressionally omitted trade title.''

Congressional leadership soon decided to go ahead with the override votes in both chambers, and to take up the excluded trade title as a separate piece of passable legislation.

After all that - there's still more. The National Congress of American Indians has issued reminders that the response rate of Indian farmers and ranchers to the 2007 Census of Agriculture has shown lower numbers than anticipated. The census numbers guide program decisions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and NCAI is urging farmers and ranchers to respond to the census by June 14. A toll-free number, (888) 424-7828, is available for information and assistance; the USDA is accessible online at www.agcensus.usda.gov; the Intertribal Agricultural Council can be reached through executive director Ross Racine at rracine@indianaglink.com; and NCAI's Daniel Cordalis is at dcordalis@ncai.org.

The high points of the 2008 farm bill, as described in separate releases by NCAI and the office of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, which moved the bill's Native-specific provisions:

*The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations now provides for the program to purchase bison meat from Native producers or from producer-owned cooperatives of bison ranchers; traditional or locally grown foods can be included in the FDPIR food package, with up to 50 percent procurement by Native farmers and ranchers ''where practicable''; and the secretary of Agriculture must assess, and may update, the nutritional value of the FDPIR food package.

The program distributes food packages to an estimated 90,000 or more individuals every month, according to the USDA. It has been reauthorized, and amended to give the secretary of Agriculture discretion to permit tribes to operate their own distribution program for elderly and low-income tribal citizens living on reservations.

*Credit can be provided for the individual purchase of highly fractionated land parcels.

*A water program vital to Alaska Native villages is reauthorized, and new funding provided for water assistance to Native-populous Alaskan municipalities.

*A new $25 million fund will provide loans, loan guarantees and grants for the development of broadband telecommunications and ''911'' emergency service in rural areas, with priority to areas without incumbent providers. ''Substantially underserved trust areas,'' including most reservations, will qualify for participation on favored terms in Rural Utility Service programs.

*Disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers are eligible for cost-sharing and advance payments for participating in conservation programs. Tribes are included as ''eligible entities'' or partners, and their lands given special status, in federal wetlands, water, conservation stewardship, and environmental quality programs.

*Nation Forest System land is authorized for various cultural and traditional activities, including the reburial of repatriated human remains and cultural objects, while a non-disclosure clause protects reburial sites and culturally sensitive knowledge.

*A tribal presence is guaranteed on the governing board of the Northern Great Plains Regional Authority, an agrarian economic development organization.

*The Food Stamp program will proceed under the new name of ''supplemental nutrition assistance program.''