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POLICY WATCH

Rural Workforce Housing Dollars Available

A Nebraska Farm Bureau backed priority of the 2022 legislative session is being enacted and applications are currently being accepted. Producers throughout the state are finding it hard to attract workers to their rural areas, often times for lack of adequate housing. The Rural Workforce Housing Land Development Program was passed to aid the issue.

Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID-19 relief dollars were allocated to states last year, and the Unicameral spent a large part of the last session vying for various programs to fund. The Nebraska Farm Bureau focused its lobbying efforts on ensuring that agricultural and rural Nebraska priorities were at the forefront of these funds.

A total of $10 million is available throughout the state and between $500,000 and $1,000,000 can be awarded to each applicant with no match needed.

Eligible activities supported by this fund include:

  • Laying of drinking water transmission lines;
  • Rehabilitation, renovation, maintenance, or costs to secure vacant or abandoned properties in disproportionately impacted communities;
  • Costs associated with acquiring and securing legal title of vacant or abandoned properties in disproportionately impacted communities and other costs to position the property for current or future use for the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act;
  • Removal and remediation of environmental contaminants or hazards from vacant or abandoned properties in disproportionately impacted communities, when conducted in compliance with applicable environmental laws or regulations;
  • Demolition or deconstruction of vacant or abandoned buildings in disproportionately impacted communities; and
  • Costs associated with inspection fees and other administrative costs incurred to ensure compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations for demolition or other remediation activities in disproportionately impacted communities.

Eligible applicants include previous Rural Workforce Housing Fund (RWFH) recipients, and 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4), and 501(c)(6) Nebraska housing or related service organizations working in partnership with RWHF recipients. If you live in one of the following counties, your community leaders should discuss applying.

Boyd County • Cheyenne County • Harlan County • Kimball County • Phelps County • Scotts Bluff County • Arthur County • Boone County • Box Butte County • Brown County • Butler County • Cherry County • Custer County • Dakota County • Dawes County • Deuel County • Dixon County • Dundy County • Franklin County • Frontier County • Gage County • Garden County • Greeley County • Holt County • Hooker County • Howard County • Jefferson County • Lancaster County • Lincoln County • Logan County • Merrick County • Morrill County • Nemaha County • Pawnee County • Polk County • Red Willow County • Richardson County • Sherman County • Valley County • Wayne County • Webster County • Wheeler County

If you are interested in learning more about this important investment in rural Nebraska, you can read more here or reach out to Andrew Dunkley with the Nebraska Farm Bureau Governmental Relations team.

Senate Sends Letter to SEC Regarding Proposed Climate Disclosure Rule

Late last week, Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer joined a number of her Senate colleagues in sending a letter to push back on a proposed rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that would place unworkable climate disclosure regulations on farmers, ranchers and agriculture producers. The senators led a letter signed by 30 colleagues calling on the SEC to rescind the overreaching proposal, which would require publicly traded companies to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports.

The rule would impose extensive new, complex and burdensome greenhouse gas reporting requirements on all entities within a company’s value chain, including farmers and ranchers who fall outside of the SEC’s Congressionally provided authority. The required information about climate-related risks would also include disclosure of a registrant’s greenhouse gas emissions, which have become a commonly used metric to assess a registrant’s exposure to such risks. In addition, under the proposed rules, certain climate-related financial metrics would be required in a registrant’s audited financial statements.Farmers and ranchers are not ‘registrants’ or otherwise subject in any way to the jurisdiction and oversight of the SEC. The proposed rule changes this. The proposed rule’s expansive treatment of the reporting of “Scope 3” greenhouse gas emissions not only directly effects our members’ operations, but in doing so may create multiple, new sources of substantial costs and liabilities. These include almost certain reporting obligations, technical challenges, significant financial and operational disruption and the risk of financially crippling legal liabilities. In doing so, the rule would have meaningful consequences for our members’ ability to produce this country’s food, fuel, and fiber as well as for the security and stability of U.S. agricultural supply chains.

Comments for the proposed SEC rule are due Friday, June 17 at midnight. If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to Take Action on this extremely harmful rule.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall Attends White House Signing of Ocean Shipping Reform Act

This week, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall was invited to go to the White House to attend the bill signing ceremony for the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. The bill, which is the first major update to federal regulations on the ocean shipping industry since the late ‘90’s, would provide the following:

  • Require ocean carriers to certify that late fees —known in maritime parlance as “detention and demurrage” charges—comply with federal regulations or face penalties;
  • Shift burden of proof regarding the reasonableness of “detention or demurrage” charges from the invoiced party to the ocean carrier;
  • Prohibit ocean carriers from unreasonably declining shipping opportunities for U.S. exports, as determined by the FMC in new required rulemaking;
  • Require ocean common carriers to report to the FMC each calendar quarter on total import/export tonnage and 20-foot equivalent units (loaded/empty) per vessel that makes port in the United States;
  • Authorize the FMC to self-initiate investigations of ocean common carrier’s business practices and apply enforcement measures, as appropriate; and
  • Establish new authority for the FMC to register shipping exchanges.

Shortly after the event, President Duvall released the following statement:

“AFBF appreciates the bipartisan work from Congress in getting the Ocean Shipping Reform Act passed and the quick action by President Biden to sign it into law.”

“Record-high shipping costs and shortages of containers have created bottlenecks at our ports and worsened supply chain issues at a time of growing demand domestically and overseas. Some estimates suggest we’ve lost out on more than $25 billion in agricultural exports. Limited trade has also made it more difficult to import supplies, which ultimately costs all Americans through higher prices.”

“I was pleased to speak personally with President Biden about the urgent need for this legislation last week, and I was proud to join him today as he signed the bill. Addressing congestion at our ports and creating greater accountability for shipping companies is a positive step toward ensuring America’s farmers and ranchers can continue feeding families at home and around the globe.”

House Passes the Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act

This week, the House passed H.R. 7606, the recently renamed Lower Food and Fuel Costs Act by a vote of 221 to 204. Nebraska’s House members were split with Congressman Don Bacon (NE-2) supporting the measure and Congressman Adrian Smith (NE-3) opposing it. It now heads to the Senate where further progress is uncertain. H.R. 7606 is a package of seven bills attempting to shore up the food and agriculture supply chain and lower food and gasoline costs to the American consumer.

AFBF policy supported the following provisions in H.R. 7606:

  • Title II—Additional Nutrient Management Assistance, which allows farmers and ranchers to receive a federal cost-share for implementing nutrient management practices and adopting precision technology to better manage the soil amendments and crop protection agents they are applying to their fields.
  • Title IV—Biofuel Infrastructure and Agriculture Product Market Expansion, which would increase the number of blender pumps at fueling stations across the country, so consumers have a choice to use lower-cost ethanol blends in their vehicles.
  • Title V—Year-Round Fuel Choice, which would make the sale of E-15 available to consumers year-round by waiving the Reid Vapor Pressure requirements for the summer months.
  • Title VI—Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment, which allows for farmers and ranchers to utilize USDA loans for the acquisition and adoption of precision agriculture technology.
  • Title VII—The Butcher Block Act, which makes available assistance through USDA for new and expanded livestock and poultry processing facilities. Increased processing capacity will help alleviate some supply chain bottlenecks and provide additional options for producers to market their cattle.

Farm Bureau has concerns, however, relating to the implementation of Title I of the bill which would create a “special investigator” within USDA. On May 3, 2022, Farm Bureau sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture and the principal sponsor outlining concerns with the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022 which is included as Title I of H.R. 7606. Congress has already delegated authority to USDA to perform the same functions the Special Investigator in Title I would perform. Those functions include investigating and potentially prosecuting violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act and cooperating with other federal agencies. To date, AFBF has not received a written response to those questions.

Application Period Closes July 1 for Additional Broadband Funding

Rural communities throughout Nebraska that do not have high-speed, reliable broadband are virtually (no pun intended) fighting an unwinnable battle. For many communities, access to health care, government services, education, and business opportunities can only be gained by reliable broadband services and sophisticated technologies that require high-speed connections. With precision agriculture practices becoming more and more prevalent and necessary in successful agricultural applications, producers, and the businesses they rely on, need access to broadband to increase production efficiencies and economic opportunities.

Thanks in part to support from Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act, administered by the Public Service Commission (PSC), was created in 2021 to facilitate and fund the deployment of broadband networks to unserved and underserved areas of Nebraska. The act allows public entities and private companies to enter a partnership to apply for grant funding. In 2022, with the help of your NEFB governmental relations team, senators passed LB 1144 which expands the act in the following ways.

The application period closes July 1.

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