Congress is working hard to reauthorize the Farm Bill, the governing legislation for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs, including agriculture development and nutrition programs. The Farm Bill is reauthorized every five years, with the current bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act, set to expire in September.
The Senate and House Agriculture committees have pursued an aggressive timeline for reauthorizing the bill, starting with listening sessions with communities, a series of hearings on current Farm Bill titles, and soliciting stakeholder feedback. However, lawmakers will likely extend the current Farm Bill through a continuing resolution (CR), while House policymakers present partisan “marker” bills and the Senate crafts a more politically realistic, bipartisan proposal that could be signed by the end of the year.
A key opportunity for community colleges
Community colleges have much to gain through the Farm Bill reauthorization. While universities have been tightly stitched into USDA research and workforce development activities for decades, community colleges have not been significantly supported — despite the fact that community colleges play an extensive role in supporting agricultural activity. The colleges provide workforce training related to agribusiness, aquaculture, horticulture, precision agriculture, livestock, dairy, forest and natural resources management, viticulture and enology, renewable resources, and other areas. With new federal assistance, colleges can develop, support and scale these programs, providing high-quality opportunities for students, strengthening local industry and bolstering the nation’s agricultural output. The American Association of Community Colleges has worked aggressively to ensure that the revised Farm Bill includes this support.
Feedback on the Farm Bill: Oregon’s Linn-Benton Community College on June 2 will host a listening session on the Farm Bill held by Oregon Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Andrea Salinas with House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson.
Community colleges are valuable partners in the employment and training components of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), but there are opportunities to better connect SNAP with community college students and programs. Under current program administration, community colleges are key third-party providers for SNAP Education & Training (E&T) sites, but the impact of training could be strengthened by increasing grants to launch and scale effective E&T programs and ensuring that individuals participating in an E&T program do not lose access to SNAP mid-program because their earnings increase with skill development.
Furthermore, the new Farm Bill can and should expand SNAP eligibility for community college students and encourage uptake of benefits. Estimates vary as to the exact extent of food insecurity on community college campuses. But without question, the condition is widespread and, by definition, serious. When community college students experience food insecurity, it presents barriers to enrollment, academic success, program completion and entry into good jobs with family-sustaining wages. In light of this, simplifying and expanding student eligibility will support students’ basic needs and furthers the SNAP program’s goal of matching individuals with opportunities that lead to self-sufficiency, economic security, and workforce and community development.
Two new bills of note
Two bills were introduced in May to better incorporate and support community colleges and community college students in the Farm Bill.
The bicameral, bipartisan Community College Agriculture Advancement Act was introduced by Reps. Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi) and Salud Carbajal (D-California) and Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado), Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Todd Young (R-Indiana). The legislation will authorize $20 million for new USDA capacity-building grants for agriculture, agrobusiness and renewable resources programs. The bill represents a major step forward in acknowledging the role of community colleges in building the agriculture workforce, and AACC hopes to see its inclusion in the next Farm Bill.
On the nutrition side, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-California) reintroduced the Enhance Access to SNAP (EATS) Act, with companion legislation introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). The bill would increase SNAP eligibility for college students by counting their time participating in higher education as fulfilling the program’s work requirement and removing complicated student eligibility criteria altogether. The bill is just one of several proposals to address food insecurity among college students.
AACC is monitoring these proposals and is working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to advance a policy change that encourages uptake of these benefits for community college students.
As Congress works to draft the Farm Bill over the next few months, members in the House and Senate will continue to introduce legislation that they hope to see included in the final package. There is new attention on the role of community colleges in the Farm Bill’s workforce development goals, and AACC is eager to work with policymakers to secure appropriate funding and support for the needs and potential of our programs and students.