The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Act), commonly known as the Farm Bill was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2018. It will remain in force through 2023, although some provisions extend beyond 2023. Spending has been increased from FY 2019 through FY 2023 by $1.8 billion (less than 1 percent) above the level projected for a continuation of the previous farm act.
The Bill enhances USDA Rural Development’s (RD) ability to support and promote rural American prosperity. Title VI provides assistance to rural communities for improving rural health outcomes, particularly in the areas of rural broadband; community and economic development program planning, coordination, and implementation; water and waste disposal and wastewater treatment facilities; as well as rural energy, electrification and cybersecurity. RD stakeholders will also find benefit from Title X (Energy) and Title XII (Misc). The 2018 Farm Bill impacts delivery and management of these critical programs and provides guidance and some funding for the agencies’ efforts.
Here are a few highlights of the legislation.
Expanding Credit to Rural Communities
- Expands the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to allow the use of grants. It also authorizes Congress to appropriate an additional $350 million to the program.
- Increases the population limit eligibility for USDA’s water, community facilities, and broadband programs to 50,000.
- Creates a permanent tribal technical service and assistance office across all USDA Rural Development funding authorities.
- Creates the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) to combine and streamline two existing local and regional food system programs, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producers Grant Program.
Increased Broadband Tools
- Prioritizes providing broadband access to those who live in underserved areas without residential service of at least 10 Mbps/1 Mbps.
- Creates a new program that would provide middle mile infrastructure.
- Codifies the existing Community Connect Program.
- Establishes a new fully public and searchable database of Rural Development’s Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan and Loan Guarantee Programs.
- Promotes continued federal broadband coordination by having USDA work with the FCC and NTIA on how to better serve rural residents and codifies the Rural Broadband Integration Working Group.
Other Key Provisions
- Modifies the Cushion of Credit program.
- Allows for the refinancing of broadband and telephone loans, as well as certain rural hospitals.
- Mandates that 20 percent of all USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine funding goes toward combating opioid misuse and other substance misuse issues.
- Codifies the Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force.
2018 Farm Bill Listening Session
On March 14, 2019 USDA Rural Development conducted a listening session webinar to listen to questions and comments from the partners, stakeholders and customers who will be affected by the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill. Topics included new tools in the 2018 Farm Bill to increase access to rural broadband e-Connectivity, expanding credit to rural communities, and other key provisions relating to USDA Rural Development programs.