Senate Acts Quickly to Move Farm Bill, Advances Some Animal Health Priorities

June 29th, 2018

Senate Acts Quickly to Move Farm Bill, Advances Some Animal Health Priorities

Following through on a commitment to pass a farm bill prior to the Fourth of July recess, on Thursday evening, June 28, the Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (S. 3042) by a vote of 86 to 11. Unlike the House version of the bill that narrowly passed by a two vote margin on June 21, the Senate bill moved forward with strong, bipartisan support. Fortunately for the horse industry, the Senate package resembles the House version by addressing many of the sector’s top animal health priorities.   Highlights include authorization of a new National Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response (NADPR) program; support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN); and creation of the National Animal Health Vaccine Bank that will focus on risks posed by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

With respect to authorization of animal health programs, a preliminary review shows that the Senate bill more closely aligns with horse industry priorities than the House bill. For example, the Senate bill authorizes $30 million each year to fund the NAHLN, matching the request from the horse industry and its partners.  Although the bill doesn’t authorize specific dollar amounts for the NADPR and the vaccine banks, it creates flexibility by “authorizing sums as necessary” to implement the programs.

AHC will continue to review the senate version of the bill for provisions that could impact the industry, including programs administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service that could help develop international markets for the sector. Now that each chamber has reported its respective bill, Congress will convene a House and Senate Conference Committee to negotiate a final package to send to the White House for enactment.  AHC is already reaching out to congressional negotiators to underscore the industry’s priorities as the legislation moves forward. For more information related to farm legislation and related advocacy, please contact Bryan Brendle, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at 202-296-4031.  To view a copy of a summary of the bill, please click here:

https://www.agriculture.senate.gov/2018-farm-bill

Farm Bill, Take 2! House Lawmakers Pass Ag Legislation, Boost Animal Health Programs

June 21, 2018

House Lawmakers Pass Ag Legislation, Boost Animal Health Programs

In the wake of a failed vote on the 2018 farm bill on May 18 – largely precipitated by controversy surrounding unrelated immigration policy issues – on June 21, House lawmakers revisited the legislation and finally passed the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) by a vote of 213 to 211.  Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced that he plans to pass companion legislation in the upper chamber before July 4, Congress appears to be poised to finalize a bill prior to expiration of Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs on September 30.  During meetings on Capitol Hill the week of June 11, multiple senate offices echoed a commitment to the deadline, reminding members of the horse industry that the chamber is prepared to work into the August recess to complete its legislative business prior to the mid-term elections in the fall.         

Fortunately for the horse industry, the $868 billion, five-year package includes provisions addressing some of AHC’s top priorities:  authorization of a new National Animal Disaster Preparedness and Response (NADPR) program; additional support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network; and creation of the National Animal Health Vaccine Bank that will prioritize risks posed by Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), among other threats. 

A preliminary review of the bill shows that although lawmakers generally met industry’s full funding request – totaling $250 million for the priority issues outlined above – for FY2019 only, the bill reduces those funds during subsequent fiscal years.  For example, the horse industry and its partners requested $70 million each year to fund the NADPR, but received $30 million for 2020 and beyond.  Fortunately for the horse industry, the final bill authorizes $150 million for a “priority FMD vaccine bank,” opening the door for funding vaccines that will mitigate other diseases.

AHC will continue to advocate for industry priorities as the legislation moves forward.  To view a copy of the legislation, please click here: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr2/BILLS-115hr2rh.pdf.   

Successful Barr Amendment Gives $5 Million Boost to Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans

On Friday, June 8, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 5895, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations Act.  Per an amendment offered by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), the House bill increases funds for Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies (EAAT) by $5 million.  Specifically, the Barr amendment directs appropriators to “transfer $5 million from the VA’s Health Administration’s (VHA) Medical Community Care Account to the Medical Services Account for the explicit use for the VA’s Adaptive Sports Grant (ASG) program, equine assisted therapy.” On Monday, June 4, AHC sent a letter of support to House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) urging the committee to rule the Barr amendment “in order” so that it could be adopted on the House floor.

By way of background, Congress has already endorsed robust EAAT measures by approving increased funds for EAAT within the FY2018 omnibus.  By approving the Barr Amendment to FY 2019 appropriations, Congress re-enforces an important commitment to our nation’s warriors when they return from combat.  According to a clinical study conducted in conjunction with Columbia University, an estimated 14% to 30% of U.S. veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Congress can help mitigate PTSD by boosting EAAT. 

The U.S. horse industry employs nearly one million Americans and contributes $122 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  EAAT programs not only provide valuable services for U.S. veterans, but the operations also support jobs for a growing number of working Americans, and “second careers” for horses who would otherwise retire from racing or other working roles.  According to a 2017 economic impact study, EAAT supports more than 6,700 jobs and generates $311.7 million in annual revenues in the U.S.  If you have questions related to AHC’s support for Rep. Barr’s Amendment to H.R. 5895, please contact Bryan Brendle, AHC’s Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at 202-296-4031. 

DHS Sets High Bar for 15,000 Extra H-2B Visas for Racetracks, Horse Farms, Other Seasonal Employers

Following several weeks of tense discussions between Congress and the Administration, on June 1 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule in the Federal Register authorizing issuance of 15,000 additional H-2B visas for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.  As reported this spring, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to raise its cap on H-2B temporary worker visas from the current cap of 66,000 to 129,500 visas for FY2018 within the context of the omnibus appropriations law passed in late March.  DHS states that by issuing 15,000 extra H-2B visas – significantly below the additional 63,500 authorized by the FY2018 omnibus – the agency will prioritize employers who demonstrate that they would suffer “irreparable harm” to their business unless they are able to hire additional seasonal workers during the summer and fall 2018 seasons.  DHS further states that it seeks to avoid possible abuse of the H-2B program by limiting the pool of extra visas to 15,000.    

According to the rule, DHS punts the broader temporary worker shortage issue to Congress, urging lawmakers to reform the Immigration and Nationality Act, which establishes the H-2B visa program.  During the course of the extended back-and-forth discussions between the legislative and executive branches this spring, DHS claims that only congressional action can provide long-term certainty with respect to the issuance of more guest worker visas.  According to federal regulators, addressing worker shortages through the annual appropriations process fails to create certainty, undercutting the ability of the business community to plan long-term.        

Since moving forward with a limited cap increase, DHS’s United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has outlined some practical considerations for filing an H-2B petition per the new regulation: 

  • An employer “must meet all existing H-2B eligibility requirements,” which includes receipt of “an approved temporary labor certification (TLC) from the Department of Labor (DOL) that is valid for the entire employment period stated on the petition.”  DHS reminds employers that “the employment start date on the petition must match the employment start date on the TLC, even if that date has passed.”
  • Employers must also “conduct a fresh round of recruitment for U.S. workers if the TLC contains a start date of work before April 15, 2018.”
  • And finally, a business must “submit an attestation on Form ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 (PDF)in which the petitioner affirms, under penalty of perjury, its business will likely suffer irreparable harm if it cannot hire all the requested H-2B workers before the end of the fiscal year.”  The agency provides Form ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 Instructions (PDF) to properly complete the attestation.
  • DHS further states that it “will not accept” an “expired ETA 9142-B-CAA from fiscal year 2017.” The agency will reject any “petition that does not include the new ETA 9142-B-CAA-2 attestation form for fiscal year 2018.” 

Recognizing the time constraints associated with the application process, DHS states that it will “adjudicate” applications within 15 calendar days for employers opting for “premium processing,” and 30 days for standard applications.  To learn more about how to fast-track an H-2B visa application, please click on the following link:  https://www.uscis.gov/forms/how-do-i-use-premium-processing-service. The unprecedented demand for guest worker visas this year will create a narrow time frame in which to submit an application.   

As details unfold related to practical considerations associated with the new rule, AHC will continue to inform members about developments and helpful anecdotes for members who are considering moving forward with summer applications. 

As a reminder, AHC will be conducting a panel discussion featuring congressional and industry experts on Tuesday, June 12, in Washington, D.C., as part of the association’s annual meeting.   To view a copy of the final rule, click here:  https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-05-31/pdf/2018-11732.pdf.  To learn more about guest worker visas and broader immigration policy developments, please contact AHC’s Bryan Brendle at bbrendle@horsecouncil.org or 202-296-4031. 

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