Sens. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) launched an investigation into syndicated conservation easements, the tax-advantaged land deals that have already drawn scrutiny from the IRS and the Justice Department.
From the air, Lewis and Clark Lake along the Nebraska-South Dakota border appears immense as it stretches some 25 miles behind Gavins Point Dam.It would be logical to think of the sprawling lake — formed by damming the Missouri River — as a big deal in flood protection.It is formed by one of six massive dams on the Missouri River, all operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.Together they constitute the largest reservoir system in the United States.And together, they deny the Missouri River its nearly annual habit of flooding twice a year because of snowmelt — first from the plains and then from the mountains.When an epic storm hit in mid-March, the gargantuan system had 22 percent of its space set aside for flood storage, and a full 96 percent of that stood empty and ready to take in water.The dam, as it turns out, is not designed for significant flood control. So when the Niobrara dumped its floodwater into Lewis and Clark Lake — on the peak day of flooding, 31 times the river’s average March flow was pouring into the lake — the Corps of Engineers had few options but to open the floodgates.The timing couldn’t have been worse: Downstream, the Platte River was pouring even more water into the Missouri River, which was swelling to record levels. South of the Platte, levees were overtopped, broken or weakened. Low-lying neighborhoods, businesses and cropland flooded.
Three-quarters of a million people would likely lose their food stamps later this year under a new proposal by the Trump administration. The goal is to encourage able-bodied adults to go to work and get off government aid. But opponents predict people would go hungry instead, if the rule goes into effect. A public comment period has so far drawn more than 28,000 comments overwhelmingly against the proposed rule.Those affected by the proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are known as able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs. There were close to 4 million adults in this category receiving food stamps in 2016. About three-quarters of them did not work, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's part of a broader effort by the administration to impose tighter work requirements on recipients of government aid, such as housing vouchers and Medicaid. A federal judge last week blocked two states, Arkansas and Kentucky, from implementing the Medicaid work rule, calling it "arbitrary and capricious."Others here are struggling with other barriers, such as homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction. Some already work, but not enough to meet the 20-hour-a-week threshold. One man says he has a janitorial job at the Baltimore Orioles' stadium, but only when the baseball team is in town. In the winter, he relies on food stamps.Others here are struggling with other barriers, such as homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction. Some already work, but not enough to meet the 20-hour-a-week threshold. One man says he has a janitorial job at the Baltimore Orioles' stadium, but only when the baseball team is in town. In the winter, he relies on food stamps.
House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson, Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, along with more than 70 Democratic and Republican colleagues wrote a letter last week to Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue. They’re asking the secretary to make implementing the dairy provisions in the new farm bill a high priority. The lawmakers are concerned about the continuing loss of dairy farms, as well as just how deficient previous dairy programs were in slowing those farm losses. Peterson and Thompson note that the 2018 Farm Bill can provide much-needed assistance to the nation’s struggling dairy farmers. The letter says, “Provisions of the new farm bill, especially the new Dairy Margin Coverage Program, will provide vital help if they can get it to dairy farmers quickly enough.” Peterson says the average Minnesota dairy farmer earned $15,000 last year, about a third of what they did in 2017. “Given what faces dairy farmers, USDA needs to get a move on implementing these dairy programs as soon as possible,” Peterson says.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced an enforcement discretion policy for certain crops under the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule portion of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA indicated in a guidance document that the agency would not be holding entities that are growing, harvesting, packing, or holding either winegrapes, hops, pulse crops, or almonds responsible for meeting the requirements set forth by the Produce Safety Rule.Several industry groups that have been affected by the announcement expressed appreciation the FDA has decided to exclude certain crops from compliance expectations. “This is significant for the California almond industry. The leadership at FDA has accepted the information and evidence that almonds are in fact rarely consumed raw,” Almond Alliance President Elaine Trevino said in a press release. “We are pleased the FDA listened to the science and evidence that we presented and took the appropriate action in placing almonds on the rarely consumed raw list.”
Meat and dairy are piling up across the U.S. It has cold storage places packed to the rafters, and the federal government, which subsidizes the agriculture industry, looking for ways to alleviate the problem, at least in the short-term. A combination of factors have led to this: increased production, flat demand despite near-record consumption of milk and cheese and trade issues. And in the long run, it’s unclear whether market forces will get production in line with demand.
States fear the EPA is preparing to override state-level pesticide regulations aimed at curbing crop damage and environmental fallout, after the agency quietly announced last week it’s considering a new way to handle state requests to impose stricter pesticide rules or training requirements.States can seek additional restrictions from the EPA for various reasons, such as accounting for local pests or environmental concerns. But the EPA noted that some requests it gets are to “narrow the federal label.” Rose Kachadoorian, president of the Association of American Pesticide Control Officials, told POLITICO she doesn’t see what problem the agency is trying to address, adding that she believes the existing system is working well.“A lot of these states want to ensure the continued availability of a technology,” she said, stressing that making adjustments would limit states’ rights. “By having the ability to have increased training, cut-off dates and other restrictions, it’s actually enabling states to use that technology and they want to be able to use it.”
The federal government provided additional food-stamp aid to Puerto Rico after the hurricane, but Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization in March as it focused on other issues before leaving for a week-long recess. Federal lawmakers have also been stalled by the Trump administration, which has derided the extra aid as unnecessary. Now, about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are grappling with a sudden cut to a benefit they rely on for groceries and other essentials.Puerto Rico will again need the federal government’s help to stave off drastic cuts to Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor and disabled, as well as for the disbursement of billions in hurricane relief aid that has not yet been turned over to the island.The island would not need Congress to step in to fund its food-stamp and Medicaid programs if it were a state. For states, the federal government has committed to funding those programs’ needs, whatever the cost and without needing to take a vote. But Puerto Rico instead funds its programs through a block grant from the federal government, which needs to be regularly renewed, and also gives food-stamp benefits about 40 percent smaller than those of states.
The Trump administration is allowing states to enact new Medicaid rules that will curtail benefits and reduce, rather than expand, the number of people eligible for the federal-state health program for the poor. New work requirements have received most of the attention. This year, the administration has granted permission to Arizona and Ohio to impose work requirements of 80 hours a month for most able-bodied adults.Since 2017, at least 15 states have either applied for or received permission to impose work requirements. But the changes go far beyond forcing Medicaid recipients to get jobs.Armed with federal waivers allowing them to deviate from the normal Medicaid rules, states also have forced beneficiaries to pay premiums; “locked out” recipients who miss deadlines; stopped providing rides for medical appointments and eliminated retroactive coverage of new enrollees’ medical bills.Ten states have received or asked for permission to impose premiums. And nine have or are seeking waivers to lock out beneficiaries for not paying premiums on time.
A USDA senior adviser acknowledged “missed opportunities to engage stakeholders” on the department’s plan to move the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture outside the Washington, D.C., area, but said the relocations would benefit both employees and taxpayers. At a hearing held by the House Appropriations Committee’s agriculture subcommittee Wednesday, Kristi Boswell (pictured above) said taxpayers would benefit because USDA would save money on rent by moving to locations outside of Washington, D.C. She also said the lives of ERS and NIFA employees would be improved by shorter commute times and cheaper housing prices.Boswell faced skeptical questions from congressional critics of the proposal. Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said he was concerned by the way the proposal has been handled “and the lack of clear, transparent communication with ERS and NIFA employees has already done irreversible damage to the department’s reputation.”