Congressman Frank Lucas held a Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, March 19, in Council Chambers of the Altus Municipal Complex to discuss events in Washington D.C., and to take comments and questions from the citizens of Altus and Jackson County. Congressman Lucas, House Representative for the Third District of Oklahoma and Chairman of the House Committee of Agriculture, reported that the new Farm Bill passed through Congress is “different” than the previous Bill, and has realized $23 billion in savings.
“We actually now have a Farm Bill that passed through Congress, signed into law on the books,” said Congressman Lucas, about what he noted as one of the only major pieces of legislation passing this year. “The Department of Agriculture in D.C. will now spend the next few months taking the new policy, turning it into rules and regulations. The Farm Service Agency Office will take those regulations turn it into software and then we’ll begin to have a sign up period for various parts of the Farm Bill to sign up.”
One difference in the new Farm Bill is the removal of annual direct payments, Congressman Lucas explained. Instead, farmers will use insurance products as a “safety net” for poor market conditions or weather conditions, like drought, to help when those problems occur. Lucas said that although the previous direct payments were compliant with the World Trade Organization, they were no longer politically sustainable.
“This new system tries to make sure the safety net is there when we need it,” Lucas said. “But when markets are good, when Mother Nature cooperates, and actually, that’s possible… then nothing will come from the Treasury.”
Of the $23 billion in savings from the the previous bill, $8 billion results from reform of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps. Lucas stated that with the ongoing recession, about 80 percent of all Farm Bill Spending in went to SNAP.
With the new Farm Bill, the USDA will be prohibited from advertising food stamps or hiring recruiters to solicit them, or to deal with foreign governments to solicit food stamps outside of the US. The SNAP reform will also require the USDA to develop a system preventing anyone from applying for food stamps in more than one state at a time. In addition, Lucas said, the reform addresses food stamps going to millionaires or deceased people.
The remaining $15 billion come out of the Commodity Title, Conservation, etc., Lucas said.
Lucas also spoke about the difficulty of the legislative process due to the division between Congress and the Executive Branch. “You have a conservative House, you’ve got a liberal President, and because the way the Senate rules work, no one has 60 to 100 votes on any given day,” he said. “Nobody is really in control of the Senate.”
As for the the remaining legislative session, Lucas said, “Unless it’s just something critical that pops up, and there are areas that are always like that, don’t hold your breath for a whole lot of legislation for the rest of the year. It’s just the nature of the environment we are in.”
Congressmen Lucas also discussed National Defense and the latest events surrounding Russia, as well as Finances and Obamacare.
There were a wide range of questions and comments from those in attendance from what happened to the disappearing Malaysia Airlines airplane, to imposing sanctions on Russia, progress with the Keystone Pipeline, abuse of Federal assistance programs, and candidates for upcoming elections.