2018 Post MWA Rally
Legislative Committee Report
1) NASCOE Year in Review:
After a long, drawn out nomination process, Mr. Sonny Perdue was finally sworn in as the Secretary of Agriculture on April 25th, 2017. One of his statements in his first address as the Secretary of Agriculture was that he was committed “to do right and feed every human” and his goal for the USDA was “to maintain a culture that promoted the highest degree of integrity and ethical behavior”. Shortly after Mr. Perdue was sworn in as Sec of Ag, he announced a plan of reorganization intended to improve the effectiveness of USDA efforts and demonstrate increased accountability to the American taxpayers. Part of that plan was to create a new Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) and realign FSA, RMA and NRCS to report to the renamed Undersecretary, Bill Northey.
While the details are unknown, the goal is to have our mission area more focused on customer service and becoming more efficient. Originally, it was portrayed this reorganization was only affecting the top portions of USDA’s administration…such as the new Undersecretary of FPAC, and who the administration of FSA, NRCS and RMA report to. However, since the original roll-out of the reorganization, it has been stated the Departments Leadership envisions county office staff (all agencies and functions) working together as one unit as opposed to stating their individual programs, which has legitimately brought many concerns to our association members on how it will affect county office employees. According to the first FPAC Town Hall meeting, however, it was stressed there will not be a lot of changes at the County Office level except for cross-training of programs. Currently, the main focus of FPAC is the organization of the FPAC Business Center, as well as creating the new FPAC software.
Because of the concerns of our members, NASCOE President Dennis Ray and Vice-President Brandon Wilson had the opportunity to meet with Departmental Staff and FPAC leadership to discuss NASCOE’s reorganization priorities. NASCOE’s ultimate goal is to work with the Department to address our staffing needs and improve the county office structure/function. In addition, we are working to protect the county committee system to continue local oversight of FSA programs. Both the NASCOE Executive Board and Legislative Committee, along with Hunter Moorhead, NASCOE Legislative Consultant, are working diligently to be proactive on this issue.
Numerous continuing resolutions (CR) have been approved for this FY. The CR of January 19th, 2018, created a government shutdown since legislators could not come to an agreement. The shutdown lasted through the following Monday (shutdown for one workday) after which an agreement was established for another CR to February 8th, 2018, in which another, very short, government shutdown did take place before they came to an agreement of another CR through March 23rd, 2018. Even though Republicans retain majority control of both the House and Senate, there are differences regarding immigration which is affecting the approval of a budget. The last report from Hunter Moorhead was that he was confident a 2018 budget will be approved this go around. Once passed, the 2018 Omnibus Bill will hopefully allow us to start hiring again.
Over the past year, numerous Farm Bill hearings have been held. The main issues presented in these hearings were the inadequacies of the Margin Protection Program, how yields were figured in the ARCPLC program, and possibly introducing cotton as a program commodity. Reauthorization of the Farm Bill will be the primary focus of Congress’ Agriculture Committees in 2018. To improve the existing production programs, Congress will need to secure significant funding above current baseline spending. The timing of any Committee action on a Farm Bill remains unclear, as policies included will be influenced by the treatment of dairy and cotton in the FY18 appropriations bill. In general, the Ag Committees need policy and budget certainty before proceeding to new legislation. This situation will require House and Senate leadership to complete the current fiscal year spending bill and any additional supplemental funding. The House Agriculture Committee has stated they will share their version of the Farm Bill as early as the end of March (if the 2018 budget passes), or the beginning of April. There is no knowledge of when the Senate will present their version of the Farm Bill.
As of 3/16/18, there are 728 active contributors nationwide for a total of $3,301.00/PP. That’s an increase of 80 new contributors since 1/26/17 and $481.00/PP!
Unfortunately the MWA did not help too much with that nationwide increase. The MWA only increased new enrollments by 7 and the total amount we are contributing by $58.00/PP (increases and new enrollments) from last year’s MWA Rally report. All of the other Areas, except for the NWA, increased dramatically. The hard part is the MWA has the largest number of members, by far, of any other Area…and we are the second lowest area participating in PAC, percentage wise. Only 9% of our members are contributing. We have to start increasing our numbers at the state levels. We have exhausted increasing our numbers at the Rally and the National Convention. It is up to our State Legislative Chairs and State Presidents to work on their members individually, as a state. Otherwise, we will never increase our numbers.
My question to all of our MWA members is this: if there was an ‘insurance’ available to protect our jobs, would they take it? I am sure about 95% of our members would say yes. The PAC IS OUR JOB INSURANCE (and is a lot cheaper than any insurance you can buy)!! We have to express the importance of the PAC and how it protects our jobs and benefits. NASCOE can fight and fight and fight for our jobs and benefits, but will not make the progress we need without the assistance of the PAC. The PAC helps NASCOE become friends with, and educate, our legislators of what FSA County Office employees do; how we impact farmer’s income level, as well as local communities as a whole. We need legislators in office that are friends of FSA and Agriculture. The PAC helps those legislators with their campaign funds to be able to stay in, or become a new member of, Congress.
Somehow, the MWA has to increase participation in the PAC. I encourage each state President and Legislative Chair to sit down together and discuss how to make this happen in their state. We need ambitious, energetic people in each state, who believe in the PAC’s purpose, to help spread the word. Sara Bateson has agreed to help me talk to our states, on an individual basis, to figure out how we can help to increase the number of their PAC contributors. The first impact I believe we can make is on our Board of Directors for each state. They are the leaders of the state associations, so how can we expect our members to become contributors when our leaders aren’t even contributors? It is so important for them to know how important this is and it is important for our state Presidents and Legislative Chairs to make this happen.
Legislative Contact Spreadsheet:
Over the past year, MWA states have been working on a legislative contact spreadsheet that contain all congressional legislators (within each state) office addresses, phone numbers, points of contact at these offices and NASCOE members who may have existing relationships with these legislators, or are willing to create a relationship with them. This spreadsheet is extremely important to NASCOE in the case we need emergency contacts made to these legislators due to the reorganization process or the upcoming Farm Bill process.
I am actually very pleased with where the majority of the MWA states are at with the spreadsheet and I want to thank everyone who has worked hard to gather information for the spreadsheet. Currently, the majority of MWA states have the contact information completed. The next step is for the selected NASCOE members to actually make the contacts and present the ‘white paper’ to these offices. The white paper was sent with the original spreadsheet a year ago, but will be sent to the states again very soon. Sara Bateson has again graciously offered to help me contact each state individually to discuss what their next steps are to finish the contacts, as well as how they plan to keep the information on the spreadsheet updated.
2) MOVING FORWARD
With new agricultural committee assignments, a new Secretary of Agriculture, a new Under-Secretary for FPAC, and new leadership in FSA’s National Office, the Legislative Committee will continue to help NASCOE build relationships and educate on the role of NASCOE, FSA, and production agriculture. We will align our initiatives with the Secretary’s initiative on customer service and the new USDA motto “do right and feed everyone.” We are focused on poising our legislative stance to be proactive, rather than reactive. We recognize the need to engage our membership and provide continual leadership development. With the introduction of the Legislative Contact Spreadsheet, the NASCOE Legislative Committee will be encouraging members to begin the process of building relationships with their local legislators and staff as soon as possible, with a priority on members of the Agriculture and Agriculture Appropriations committees. NASCOE is working closely with our Legislative Consultant, Hunter Moorhead, to diligently research and address legislation that affects appropriations, budget, staffing, office structure, benefits, and Farm Bill development.
As always, we continually stress the importance of growing the NASCOE PAC. With only about a 12.6% member participation rate nationwide, we look forward to the opportunities of continued growth successes and solicit the help of everyone in making sure our PAC remains strong. The NASCOE Legislative Committee has set a goal of each state obtaining at least 10% to 12% of its membership contributing to the PAC. The PAC is one of the most important tools we have to educate our legislators on the importance of what we do every day as an FSA employee, and we as members have to stress the importance of contributing to the PAC to the rest of our fellow members. The new promotion, for anyone that starts a new allotment or increases their current allotment by $3.00 or more, is a stainless steel tumbler with the NASCOE PAC logo on it.
We expect to have a busy and exciting year with developments in the Farm Bill, budget, building relationships with the new administration and congressional leaders, and USDA reorganization. The Legislative Team is up for the task and will be working hard for NASCOE’s membership.
MWA Legislative Committee Chairman