New Regulation Updates Eligibility Limitations for Farm Subsidies

In a regulation filed in the Federal Register on Monday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency, and Commodity Credit Corporation announced changes and provided clarifications to government subsidy payments for farm managers. The changes come from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 and other rules created by the agencies. The regulation, which modifies 7 CFR 1400, is already in effect. 

Under the new regulation, a farm worker will need to perform at least 500 hours of management or 25 percent of the annually required management work to qualify for a farm subsidy payment. It further specifies what constitutes management. Previously, a person needed to have a role of “active personal management,” which was sometimes interpreted broadly; under the new rule the management activities must be regular and continuous.

“This is way stronger than what we had before this week,” Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition told Successful Farming. The article reported that Congress has tried to restrict access to subsidies and that the Government Accountability Office reported one farming operation received $651,000 in government subsidies because 16 of the 22 employees claimed they were active management.

The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the definition of “family member” to include first cousins, nieces, and nephews, but the regulation clarifies that the additional family members are subject to the same management requirements. “With this change, a joint operation comprised of the newly expanded definition of family members would no longer be subject to the limitation of members qualifying on a management contribution alone, which increases the number of additional individuals eligible for payment within joint operations comprised solely of family members,” the regulation stated.

The regulation created two limitations for the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). The document stated “the 2018 Farm Bill provides a separate per crop year maximum per person and legal entity limitation of either $125,000 for payments to those who purchased basic 50/55 NAP coverage or $300,000 for payments to those who purchased buy-up coverage. The 2018 Farm Bill increased the payment limitation for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to $500,000 per program per disaster event.” It also removed payment limits for certain organizations.

Other changes include clarifying the definition of livestock, amending provisions to specify that a state or political unit is not eligible for payments, specifying what constitutes a “substantive change in the farming operation,” and technical changes in language.