Ellyn Ferguson

States scramble to get February food stamps out amid shutdown

State and county workers spent the weekend gathering information needed to make sure 38 million low-income people receive their February food stamp benefits early despite a partial federal government shutdown.

The Agriculture Department prompted the flurry of activity when it announced last week that it would tap the remaining budget authority in an expired continuing resolution to provide states $4.8 billion to cover February benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Finance’s Grassley backs Trump on NAFTA, but not on tariffs
New Senate Finance Committee chairman reaffirms support for cheaper drugs from Canada

The new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said he would advise President Donald Trump to take a hard line with congressional Democrats if they push to renegotiate the proposed trade pact that would replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa has told reporters  that he would encourage Trump to begin a formal withdrawal from NAFTA if Democrats insist on renegotiating the pact’s replacement — the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

USDA Races to Use Budget Authority for Food Stamp Benefits in Shutdown
Announcement comes just before Trump’s television address

The Trump administration said it will cover food stamp benefits in February using its authority under a provision of an expired continuing resolution that allows it to obligate federal funds within 30 days of expiration.

That move to use the stopgap measure that expired Dec. 21 would give USDA the $4.8 billion it would need to provide funding if the partial government shutdown continues into next month. This is the first time the department has used the method because of a government shutdown.

US-China trade talks are a big deal for startups
Business owners are watching this week as a U.S. delegation negotiates with Chinese officials

Vicki Mayo helps run an Arizona company that makes a watch-like device it boasts eases stress. Now the future of her company could hinge on the outcome of talks this week to resolve the tariffs standoff between the United States and China.

As owner and co-founder of Scottsdale-based tech startup The TouchPoint Solution, Mayo said she had high hopes of expanding the business. But she put those plans on hold after the Trump administration imposed 10 percent tariffs on Chinese imports last year, with a threat to increase those duties to 25 percent.

Trump Set to Sign Farm Bill, Minus the Food Stamp Changes He Wanted
Planned signing comes a day before current stopgap government funding expires

Lawmakers expect President Donald Trump to sign the farm bill legislation Thursday even though it excludes Republican priorities Trump supported such as changes to food stamps.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan plan to be at the White House, though the former said Tuesday that he doesn’t have a time or any details.

Final Farm Bill Would Make Hemp Legal, Other Details Revealed
Lying in state of George H.W. Bush disrupts bill release schedule

The top House Agriculture Democrat says a final farm bill agreement rejects controversial House provisions to tie food stamp benefits to expanded work requirements, greenlights hemp cultivation and tweaks programs important to farmers and ranchers.

The death of former President George H.W. Bush and his lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda disrupted congressional schedules this week, including the release of a final farm bill. Lawmakers have spent weeks negotiating to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the legislation.  

Forest Fires Add Snag to Getting Farm Bill Passed
House-passed version would change forest management policies that opponents say would ease oversight

Forestry provisions have emerged as the latest snag in farm bill negotiations, sending the issue to congressional leaders for talks to break the impasse.

The forestry provisions in the House-passed version of the farm bill say the proposed changes to federal forest management policies would prevent forest fires — an issue that is now at the forefront after the deadly California fires. Opponents say the proposed changes would ease federal oversight and safeguards needed to limit logging on public lands that could destroy forests habitats and reduce protections for endangered wildlife.

Farm Aid Payments to City Dwellers Prompt Call for Limits on Program
Study found more than 1,000 recipients had city addresses

Nearly 1,150 recipients who qualified for aid under a $12 billion Trump administration program to offset foreign tariffs on U.S. farm products maintain city addresses, an interest group found in an initial survey, prompting calls for overhauling the program.

The Environmental Working Group argued Monday that the data should prompt lawmakers working on a pending reauthorization of federal farm and nutrition programs to impose tougher standards to reduce the number of “city slickers” eligible for farm subsidies.

Farm Bill Negotiators Aim to Hash Things Out in Veterans Day Meeting
Republicans lost their bargaining edge with the election, Collin Peterson says

The two top House farm bill negotiators plan to meet on a federal holiday Monday to try to find a way forward on a compromise measure that could pass a lame-duck Congress.

Collin C. Peterson, currently the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee and presumed chairman in the 116th Congress, said he and current Chairman K. Michael Conaway of Texas would meet on Veterans Day to discuss the legislation. A Peterson aide on Friday confirmed the Nov. 12 meeting.

A Democratic Majority Could Milk Trump’s Trade Pact
‘The bar for supporting a new NAFTA will be high,’ says top Democrat on Ways and Means

The Trump administration included provisions in the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico to win Democratic support, but if the midterm elections hand Democrats the majority in either the House or Senate, the path forward for the revised agreement may be more complicated.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the agreement in principle on Nov. 30 and send implementing legislation to Congress sometime later. Trump also notified Congress on Tuesday that his administration plans to launch trade negotiations with the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom in 2019.

Stick With Senate Farm Bill or Extend Existing Law, Groups Say
Agriculture committee staffers in both chambers continue to work on compromise

Unless key farm bill negotiators use the Senate version as the template for a new bill, an extension of the now expired 2014 farm law would be better than using the House farm bill as the basis for a conference report, representatives from nutrition, environmental, small farmer and food policy groups said Monday.

At a briefing, the organizations said the House and Senate farm bills differ sharply in important areas. While they want a new bill to replace the farm law that expired Sept. 30, the organizations say they represent a broad coalition that would oppose a bill based on the House farm bill version, which calls for changes, including to farm payments and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Farm Law Expires As Negotiators Remain Divided on New Bill
Roberts: ‘stark differences of opinion’ about House and Senate versions

The 2014 farm bill expired Sunday, ending dozens of programs and putting others in a holding pattern until four key lawmakers either produce a replacement bill or seek some form of extension of the now defunct law.

The four principal negotiators working on a 2018 farm bill say they hope to resolve differences between House and Senate farm bills and have a conference report ready in October for a vote in the lame-duck session in November or December.

Three-Way NAFTA Trade Deal Headed to Congress
U.S. would get greater access to Canada’s dairy market

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced a three-country ″modernized″ NAFTA agreement, clearing away one potential objection from key lawmakers who appeared ready to challenge a trade pact without Canada.

Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the agreement late Sunday night after frenzied negotiations over the weekend to resolve outstanding issues. If the preliminary accord is approved by Congress it will be renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The United States and Mexico reached an agreement in late August.

These Farm Programs Will Turn Into Pumpkins Sunday If Congress Doesn’t Act
Top negotiator on farm bill doesn’t want extension that could keep them afloat

Dozens of programs for military veterans turned farmers, small rural businesses and expanding foreign markets for agriculture will end Sunday if lawmakers do not extend the expiring 2014 farm bill.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas said Monday that “it’ll be a tall order” to get a replacement for the current law completed and enacted before the midterm elections in November.

Scalise Tells Canada Time Is Running Out to Join NAFTA Update
Trade negotiations with Ottawa remain ongoing despite pressure from Trump administration

A top House Republican leader warned Canada on Tuesday that his chamber will move ahead with a review and vote on a U.S.-Mexico trade agreement in principle without Canada if Ottawa doesn’t quickly wrap up NAFTA talks.

“Members are concerned that Canada does not seem to be ready or willing to make the concessions that are necessary for a fair and high-standard agreement,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise said in a statement.

Another Farm Bill Trouble Spot: Ex-Prisoners Growing Hemp
The conference committee met Wednesday morning ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline

Advocates for criminal justice reform hope to convince lawmakers to reject a provision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate farm bill that would deny people with drug felony convictions the chance to be hemp farmers.

Nine Senate and 47 House negotiators met publicly for the first time Wednesday to lay out their positions on how to proceed in reconciling House and Senate versions of the five-year legislation. Lawmakers will push to have a compromise bill ready before the current farm and food policy law expires Sept. 30.

Canada: No Deal Yet With U.S. on NAFTA Update
Dairy central to disagreements

Canada’s top trade negotiator said Friday that talks to update NAFTA have yet to produce an agreement with the United States. The comments come just hours before the administration plans to notify Congress that it intends to sign a trade agreement in principle with Mexico.

“We are not there yet,” said Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland Friday morning.  “We are only going to sign a deal that is good for Canada. My job is to find the deal that works for Canada.″ 

Congress Awaits Details as Canada Looms Over NAFTA Deadline
Democrats and Republicans want northern neighbor included

With just a day before the Trump administration is expected to notify Congress that it plans to sign an agreement in principle with Mexico to update the NAFTA trade pact, lawmakers continue to seek more details and push for a final outcome that includes the third NAFTA partner — Canada.

“We have no exact details. Other than what’s been written in newspapers, we have no idea what’s in it,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of the agreement in principle announced Monday by Mexico and the United States to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Corker said Senate Republicans were told Tuesday that they could soon receive what he called talking points on the agreement.

Trump Administration Hears Day One of China Tariff Pleas
Six public hearings on import duties began Monday amid worries, hopes

Importers told government officials Monday that very little product manufacturing will return to the United States, saying Chinese manufacturers have the expertise to produce at high volume and lower prices.

The comments came as the Trump administration began public hearings on proposed tariffs on $200 billion in imports from China. While business leaders in some industries are hopeful that the tariffs will offer protection against competitors using cheaper imported Chinese goods, others worry about potential financial hardships.

NAFTA Talks Hit One-Year Mark as Trump Keeps Canada Hanging
Mexican officials are in D.C. this week amid push for bilateral agreement

Top U.S. and Mexican negotiators are meeting this week in the latest effort to finish a bilateral trade agreement amid unanswered questions about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the first anniversary of the Trump administration’s launching of negotiations to revamp the 1994 trade pact.

Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, secretary of the economy, made a late afternoon arrival at the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday. Guajardo is leading a Mexican delegation comprised of negotiators from the current administration and a transition team from the new administration that takes office in December.