Weekly Food and Agriculture Update – 1.16

January 16, 2024

Contents

  • What We’re Watching
  • Notable News
  • This Week’s Legislation
  • Upcoming Hearings
  • Contact the Team

What We’re Watching

Congress 

Appropriations

Over the weekend, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) came to an agreement on a third Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government open through early March. The CR again sets two funding deadlines, March 1 for the Agriculture, Energy and Water, MilCon-VA, and Transportation-HUD spending bills and March 8 for all other federal agencies.

The Senate is scheduled to vote tonight to invoke cloture on the CR where it is expected to pass, however, votes on the CR itself could be challenging if some Members intentionally delay passage. The House has suspended votes for today due to the winter storm and will also be facing a historically thin margin to pass a CR before Friday. The Senate has decided to move ahead with votes this evening. The Office of Budget Management (OMB) has circulated shutdown guidance to federal agencies.

Agriculture Labor Wages

Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-MI) lead a letter on freezing the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) required by the H2-A visa program, signed by 75 members. The AEWR has caused problems for American farmers who can no longer afford to keep up with the rising wages but rely on the H2-A program for workers. The letter states that the “national average AEWR has already more than doubled over the past two decades,” and claims that nearly half of all states are projected to have an AEWR between $17 and $19 per hour in 2024” in comparison to producers in Canada that pay $11 an hour or $1.50 an hour in Mexico. The letter requests that H2-A wage rates are left at January 2023 levels. 

Administration

Secretary Vilsack Urges Congress to Fund WIC

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack requested $1 billion through appropriations to fund the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Congress has not appropriated the funds to cover the program once the Continuing Resolutions run out due to increasing food costs, therefore leading to a $1 billion shortfall. A lapse in funding would force potential beneficiaries to be placed on a waiting list for the first time in decades. House Democrats also sent a letter at the beginning of the month requesting full funding for WIC in Fiscal Year 2024 appropriations.

USDA Awards Funding for Domestic Biofuels

Secretary Vilsack announced $19 million in grants to businesses to increase the availability of domestic biofuels across 22 states. The funding is being administered through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program within the Inflation Reduction Act and aims to reduce fuel costs. States that will be receiving funding include Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.

Department of Labor Issues Final Rule on Independent Contractor Status

The Department of Labor issued their final rule on definition of an independent contractor, rescinding the previous 2021 Independent Contractor Rule. The new final rule uses the same six-factor “economic realities” test from the proposed version in 2023 to determine independent contractor status, but the final version made changes to the definitions of those factors. Notably, it changes the “nature and degree of control” and “relative investments” factor criteria. The final rule will take effect on March 11, 2024.

EPA Finalizes PFAS Significant New Use Ruling

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Significant New Use Rule to require companies to seek approval before manufacturing, importing, or processing PFAS listed on the TSCA Inventory. The SNUR will require companies to notify EPA at least 90 days before commencing any manufacture (including import) or processing of the 329 PFAS for any use. The final rule will be effective on March 11, 2024.

Notable News

ICYMI: Check out our team’s insights and what we’re watching for 2024 here.

This Week’s Legislation

  • Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill to amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to authorize payments under the environmental quality incentives program to assist producers in implementing certain conservation practices along the southern border of Texas.
  • Congresswoman Celeste Maloy (R-UT) introduced a bill to direct the Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration to reduce rates for firm electric service customers due to shortfalls in generation from certain Bureau of Reclamation hydroelectric facilities.
  • Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) introduced a bill to require enforcement against misbranded egg alternatives.

Upcoming Hearings

Wednesday January 17

  • 10:00 AM: The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing on “The State of Transportation”

Thursday, January 18

  • 10:00 AM: The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on “Oversight of the SEC’s Proposed Climate Disclosure Rule: A Future of Legal Hurdles”

Contact the Team

Feel free to contact Michael Torrey, Tara Smith, Cassandra Kuball, Barbara Patterson, Katie Naessens, Caroline Snell, Danielle Nelson, Julie McClureAshley Smith, Olivia Lucanie, Heath Brandt, Tracy Boyle or Matthew Hughes with any questions or comments.

Food and agricultural organizations that need the right results in Washington, D.C. can trust Torrey Advisory Group to put its relationships, reputation, and expertise to work on your issue. Since 2005, the firm has successfully provided legislative and regulatory guidance, issues management, and association management services to a wide variety of clients. Learn more about us at torreydc.com. 

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