Legislative Update: 2018 Minnesota Legislature and Trump Administration’s FY 2019 Budget Proposal

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was recently interviewed by Little Falls Radio Farm Director Scott Colombe to provide an overview of the 2018 Minnesota Legislative Session, as well as the Trump Administration’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget.

For additional information, please contact Mr. Ladd at daveladd66@gmail.com.

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Native American Tribes Must Engage in Farm Bill Debate (Fred Starzyk, Heartland Advocates)

The below article is based on the report “Regaining Our Future” written by Janie Simms Hipp and Colby D. Duren with the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, commissioned by Seeds of Native Health.

To learn more about Seeds of Native Health, please visit seedsofnativehealth.org.

As debate begins regarding the 2018 Farm Bill and its potential impact on rural America, much of the focus of the farm bill discussions will be on the importance of the income safety net provided by Title 1 programs and the risk management tools made available through crop insurance.

The Farm Bill is the largest non-defense piece of legislation tackled by Congress.  This mammoth bill is reauthorized every five years and touches on everything from taxes, trade and immigration to crop insurance, rural development and food stamps.

Despite its size and scope, Indian Country has been absent from the debate in the formation and ultimate passage of previous Farm Bills.  As this country’s first farmers, food producers, and stewards of the land, in the past Indian Country has been relatively silent in the Farm Bill debate.

Indian Country has a lot at stake in today’s Farm Bill and it is critically important that Native voices be heard.  Every title of the Farm Bill affects Indian Country.  All 12 titles contain policy issues and debates on which it is extremely important for Indian Country to engage.

For example, advocacy in support of 638 Authority for nutrition and forestry programs with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  This is critical for tribal self-governance, thereby allowing tribes the ability to engage efficiently with USDA agencies while giving tribal governments control over these very important programs.

Including tribal governments in the existing intergovernmental approaches of many programs administered by USDA is a small but important step for which tribes need to advocate.  Tribes should have the option of creating their own Departments of Food and Agriculture.

Within each of the Farm Bill’s 12 titles there exists opportunities for Indian Country to engage.  This memo outlines only some of the bigger policy areas in each of the bill’s titles that are ripe for tribal involvement.  Individual tribes may have different priorities but there are a number of provisions upon which there can be general agreement.

Title I: Commodities

  • Update the definition of livestock found in Section 1501(a)(3) to include other commonly raised livestock such as elk and horses or other animals raised or harvested in tribal communities.
  • Increase Livestock Indemnity Payments for Tribal Producers from the current 75% to 90%.
  • Include tribes and individual Indian producers as eligible for Commodity Credit Corporation emergency relief funds for livestock under Section 1501(d).
  • Amend Section 1606 on Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers to explicitly include tribal governments.
  • Require the Secretary of Agriculture to engage in consultation with tribal governments regarding the determination and election of “base acres” applicable under all programs within the Commodity Title.

Title II: Conservation

  • Develop a new section to the Conservation Title to recognize Indian Country’s efforts and practices of traditional knowledge-based conservation.
  • Amend the definition of “Priority Resource Concerns” in Section 1238D (5) to include tribal priorities.
  • Include a new section to the Conservation Title that would allow lands held in common by tribal entities or individual members to have access to all programs in the Conservation Title.
  • In all references to “state law” in the Conservation Title, add “tribal law” so the language reads “state or tribal law”.
  • Consider traditional ecological knowledge whenever the Secretary determines the level of compliance of landowners who have lands or resources enrolled in any programs within the Conservation Title.
  • Complete tribal parity in all programs within the Conservation Title.
  • Creation of a new fund within the Conservation Title to ensure that technical assistance is made on a continual basis to tribal governments and tribal landowners.

Title III: Trade

  • Expand the Market Access Program (MAP) to benefit tribes.
  • Include Indian Country as the USDA develops a stronger relationship with the Department of Commerce regarding food, food production and agriculture trade.

Title IV: Nutrition

Perhaps the Title of the Farm Bill that directly affects Indian Country the most.  With 25% of Native Americans receiving some type of federal food assistance, the Nutrition Title’s importance to Indian Country cannot be overstated.

  • Oppose reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Allow tribes the option of entering into a 638 contract for the administration of SNAP and other federal food programs.
  • Increase funding of the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) program.

Title V: Credit

  • Improvements must continue to be made to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) programs to address the availability, efficiency and application of credit programs in Indian Country.

Title VI: Rural Development

  • Provide a tribal set-aside within the Rural Development program authorities to address the lack of rural infrastructure in Indian Country.
  • Maintain Rural Water Program funding in the Rural Development Title.

Title VII: Research

  • Provide tribal set-asides and preferences within all National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funding authorities.

Title VII: Forestry

  • Allow for greater tribal participation in Tribal Forest Protection Act (TFPA) projects by authorizing, as a discretionary pilot program, the application of 638 contracting authority to TFPA projects on Forest Service or BLM land.
  • Ensure that interdepartmental efforts to protect sacred sites are maintained and strengthened and improve USDA consultations with tribes concerning these sacred places.

Title IX: Energy

  • Advocate for the establishment of a tribal bio-based energy development grant program.

Title X: Horticulture

  • Change the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to include tribal departments of food and agriculture.

Title XI: Crop Insurance

  • In excess of 50% of the Indian agriculture industry is comprised of cattle and risk management tools must meet that need. Livestock producers in Indian Country continue to see a need for risk management provisions.

Title XII: Miscellaneous

  • Fully fund the Office of Tribal Relations at the USDA.
  • Authorize the establishment of an Office of Tribal Agriculture.
  • Create new tax incentives for a new “Buy Indian” tax credit program.
  • Increase cooperative agreements between tribes and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
  • Recognize Tribal Departments of Food and Agriculture.

Without questions there a many more recommendations.  These represent only a handful of the more widely agreed upon within Indian Country.  It is critical that tribes engage early in 2018 to have a voice in the creation and passage of the next Farm Bill.

 

Fred Starzyk is Co-Founder & Principal of Heartland Advocates LLC, with offices in Washington, D.C. and St. Paul, MN.  He specializes in Native American Affairs, Agriculture, Department of the Interior, and Homeland Security issues.

Health Insurance Remains Confusing (via Progressive Farmer)

Despite the continued political battles over the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” it remains the law, the marketplace for insurance still exists and enrollment starts Wednesday.

Farmers in most of the country are left largely with the same health-insurance options they have faced in the past when it comes to the law, though a new experiment is starting in Minnesota with a farmer health-insurance cooperative.

The idea of a farmer health-care cooperative had been kicked around in Minnesota since 2009 but had faced multiple regulatory stumbling blocks. At the end of last year, Minnesota farmers complained to state lawmakers that the insurance exchange was collapsing down to one insurance option across much of the exchange and as many as seven counties in the state were looking at no insurance option. Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation last spring specifically allowing farmers and their employees to form a health-care cooperative.

“It will fill a need in the individual marketplace for the people who have gotten hammered by the premium increases,” said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. “This is where all the farmers fall, and this is an attempt to correct that.”

HOW IT WORKS

The cooperative, called 40 Square, is a self-insurance plan that operates like most insurance policies with a deductible, copays and a percentage of out-of-pocket costs. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are waived for routine preventive care, and there are standard costs for prescription drugs. A summary of 40 Square plans offers annual deductible options for families from $3,000 to $13,100 in different plans.

To sign up for 40 Square, a Minnesotan has to farm and have at least one common-law employee — a person who receives a W-2 for working on the farm. If the insurance is attractive, a farmer who is a sole proprietor might consider working with an accountant to provide a seasonal contractor, or relative, with wages and taxes withheld to issue a W-2 rather than treat that person as an independent contractor with a 1099 form.

“If your spouse does the books and you issue him or her a W-2, you can consider the farm an employer with a common-law employee,” said Charlene Vrieze, project manager for 40 Square.

Farmers require an employee because the cooperative is regulated under a Department of Labor regulation dealing with employer-employee benefits.

Farmers also purchase stock to join the cooperative, which amounts to a $100 voting share stock and a $1,000 common stock, which will be paid throughout the first 12 months of membership in 40 Square. The cooperative also requires farmers to offer 40 Square insurance to employees for at least three years.

“That’s a requirement by the state because the state wanted to see as stable a pool as possible because it’s new,” Vrieze said.

The article can be accessed  by visiting https://www.dtnpf.com/agriculture/web/ag/news/article/2017/10/31/changes-farmers-minnesota-testing

Health Insurance Option Run and Owned by Farmers (Red River Farm Network)

Access to health insurance is a huge issue for all farmers. The Minnesota Legislature passed legislation to provide a premium subsidy in the individual market. That, in turn, resulted in the creation of additional health care options to farmers and their employees through the 40 Square Cooperative.

“Open enrollment aligns with the individual market, and enrollment is November 1 through December 15,” says project manager Char Vrieze. To qualify, farmers must purchase stock in the cooperative and enroll for a minimum of three years. This option will be “owned by farmers and governed by farmers.”

Now is the Time for Dairy Producers to Engage on Farm Bill (Fred Starzyk, Heartland Advocates)

Early next year Congress will take up reauthorization of the Farm Bill reauthorization. This bill, up for renewal every five years, is one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation with which Congress deals and is of great importance. It impacts everything from commodity payment mechanisms and crop insurance to trade, specialty crops and nutrition.

The 2014 Farm Bill included numerous programs which impact dairy farmers, including; the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP), LGM-Livestock and the Dairy Product Donation Program (DPDP). The legislation also included the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP) and additional conservation programs. This article will focus on the Margin Protection Program for dairy producers.

Congress mandated that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) implement a new margin protection program for dairy producers. The MPP is a voluntary program intended to provide milk producers with protection from low operating margins.

A key aspect of the MPP is creating a timely and transparent measure of an average dairy-production operating margin that is useful across all dairy regions. The MPP was passed as a replacement for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) and is effective through December 31, 2018. The Margin Protection Program offers dairy producers: (1) catastrophic coverage, at no cost to the producer, other than an annual $100 administrative fee; and (2) various levels of buy-up coverage. Catastrophic coverage provides payments to participating producers when the national dairy production margin is less than $4.00 per hundredweight (cwt).

The national dairy production margin is the difference between the all-milk price and average feed costs. Producers may purchase buy-up coverage that provides payments when margins are between $4.00 and $8.00 per cwt. To participate in buy-up coverage, a producer must pay a premium that varies with the level of protection the producer elects.

There continues to be calls from the dairy sector for adjustments to the program. For example, dairy interests in the Midwest are advocating that the MPP should allow for additional production history for a participating dairy when a family member joins or when an inter-generational transfers occurs.

During debate of the 2014 Farm Bill, the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) sought a number of changes to the dairy MPP. These policy recommendations ranged from changing the way dairy feed costs are calculated, to providing farmers greater flexibility in signing up for coverage and using other risk management tools.

While these and other recommendations from the NMPF were not adopted by Congress in 2014, dairy producers from every region of the United States are once again lobbying for these and other policy initiatives as Congress and the Administration fully engage on writing the next Farm Bill.

Fred Starzyk is a Co-Founder and Principal of Heartland Advocates, a government relations and strategic communications firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and St. Paul, MN.

Client Spotlight: 40 Square Cooperative Solutions

40 Square Cooperative Solutions was created and registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State in 2009 and is working to bring additional health plan options to Minnesota’s farm families and their employees.

As a health plan cooperative, 40 Square will be owned by the members it serves.  In order to provide interested parties with as much information as possible regarding the plan, a series of informational meetings are being scheduled.

To learn more about 40 Square Cooperative Solutions, please visit http://40square.coop .

Health-care cooperative becoming a reality (via New Ulm Journal)

In a room filled with 75-plus agricultural producers and insurance representatives, the talk tends to focus on the current insurance crisis facing farmers across the state.

Such was the case Thursday evening at the offices of the Farmward Cooperative in Morgan.

Those in attendance were there to learn about another health insurance option for commodity producers.

Representatives of the newly-formed, but long-planned health-care cooperative called 40 Square were ready, willing and able to present and discuss a new health-care cooperative.

40 Square is a member-owned cooperative formed to assist agricultural producers in working together to help curtail the high cost of health insurance and health care.

Jeff Nielsen, president and CEO of United Farmers Cooperative (UFC), Winthrop, is a driving force in getting the new business off the ground.

“40 Square is a health-care cooperative,” Nielson said. “There is a need for this for farmers in the area. Healthcare is near and dear to your heart. It’s about time we can trust in the health care system. How many of you are good with our health care system today?”

Nielsen knows what he’s talking about when it comes to being a self-insured entity, which is what 40 Square was developed to be. He has been instrumental in keeping the insurance system at UFC as a self-insured system.

It’s working, and Nielsen is passionate about the opportunity being offered to producers of corn, soybeans, milk, meat and other commodities.

He knows there is a need for health insurance reform and believes it will work because “health insurance is the largest concern of the farmers I talk to.”

40 Square is a breath of fresh air for farmers struggling to find health insurance and then having to pay that monthly premium.

“Our rates keep going up,” commented Marge Schroeder, Renville. “Plus living in Renville County, we can’t go where we prefer to go. We cannot go to Mayo in Rochester.”

40 Square does have requirements to become a member-owner.

Members have to produce an agricultural commodity and have at least one common law employee. A common law employee is defined as someone who performs services for a business and that business controls what the person does, and how the person does it. The employer has to instruct the worker on when and where to do the work, what tools to use, where to purchase supplies and also provide the training to successfully complete the job.

Producers must sign up for at least three years.

Producers will purchase stock to become a member of the cooperative. One farm operation would purchase one share and earn one vote under the business structure. Any changes that need to be made will be voted on by the members.

The cooperative will be governed by a board of directors, consisting of ag producers, which would be elected by the voting members.

Because the cooperative is set up as a 308B Corporation, majority ownership must be from the members of the co-op. This means that member owners will control 51 percent or more of the business. The remaining 49 percent can be owned by outside investors.

40 Square members would purchase voting stock up-front for $100, per farm. Common stock, in the amount of $1,000, can also be purchased and can be paid for through the first 12 months of membership. The initial buy-in dollars will be placed into a trust.

“Those funds cannot be taken out of that trust for cooperative services,” Charlene Vrieze, project manager with 40 Square, said.

The trust would be set up to only cover claims placed by members. Business expenses will be covered by outside investors.

Vrieze has also been deeply involved with getting the concept of a health-care cooperative turned into an actuality.

“In Minnesota, we had to pass three pieces of legislation to proceed with our plan for 40 Square,” Vrieze said. “It’s been a long regulatory road.”

Terri Moxley, senior sales specialist with EBSO, explained how EBSO would assist as a third party manager of the business. (EBSO offers assistance “with management of an array of self-funded and fully insured benefit plans and products.”)

“We would make sure the plan is working and how we can change the plan to enhance it,” Moxley said. “The plan becomes tailored to those that are using it.”

Area producers would need to get in touch with their local insurance agents and accountants to pencil out the best option for their operation.

Also in attendance was Bob Skillings, a financial advisor with South Point Federal Credit Union, with an office in New Ulm. He’s excited to jump on board and help farmers decide what will work best for them.

“Hopefully this will be a good solution for farmers,” Skillings said.

Coverage under this new system begins with open enrollment starting Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017 through Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Coverage will begin Jan. 1, 2018 for those who chose to participate during open enrollment.

Interested individuals can also learn more and request information at 40square.coop.