August 2023 Policy Connection

Policy Strategy Tip for Funders

Independent Sector recently released the findings of a new research study designed to provide insights on how advocacy and civic engagement may vary by organization size, geography, communities served, and leadership demographics. The study–based on a nationally representative quantitative survey and complementary qualitative interviews of nonprofits–is the first of its kind in more than 20 years. 

Key data points: 

  • Only 31% of nonprofits report engaging in advocacy or lobbying over the last five years, less than half of the percentage of nonprofits that reported ever lobbying in 2000 (74%). 
  • In 2000, over half of 501(c)(3) public charities (54%) knew they could support or oppose federal legislation. Today, only 32% of nonprofits are aware of that fact.

We encourage you to review the full report, “The Decline of Influence,” and consider it a call to action for the funder community to encourage and empower nonprofits to influence legislation and regulation. Katherine Wright, Executive Director of the Wright Family Foundation, said it well

“Modern philanthropy has a choice: It can either wait and respond to governmental policies, or it can help shape them. Our family foundation learned that the biggest return we will ever get on any grant is a grant to change policy. Similarly, we learned that the biggest impact we can have on policymakers does not come from cutting checks but by mobilizing our voices.”

The following questions may be helpful to keep in mind as you parse through the data: 

  • Are there internal barriers to funding policy advocacy efforts, such as Board buy-in? If so, what are they and could SAFSF be a partner in helping address them? 
  • Are there opportunities to expand your advocacy grantmaking? Tip: See this resource from Bolder Advocacy on how foundations can support policy change. 
  • Has your foundation made the 501(h) election
  • Are there opportunities to connect with other funders in your region or around a particular issue area? We are always happy to help connect you with relevant SAFSF members. 

SAFSF Member Policy in Action

Mandating Reinvestment by the Farm Credit System, Ag’s GSE 

by David Beck, Policy Director, Self-Help Credit Union 

Self-Help, a national CDFI and credit union headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, has supported the sustainable food system ecosystem since our beginnings, when we were making loans to NC food co-ops in the early 1980s. Our business, real estate, and non-profit lending continue to support food systems today. In total, Self-Help has provided over $250 million in food-related loans. 

Yet, the majority of our lending is in affordable homeownership, and for decades we’ve worked with the housing Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Home Loan Banks, partnering and pushing them to help make homeownership more attainable. Congress requires all three housing GSEs to grant back – or tithe – some annual profits to support more affordable housing via down payment assistance and other measures. As we more holistically engaged in the equitable food lending space, we learned that agriculture has its own GSE, the Farm Credit System, that is highly profitable (clearing $7.3 billion in 2022) but – unlike the housing GSEs – has no grant back mandating. 
Given the equity and capital needs facing our food and ag system, that should change. Congress provides Farm Credit explicit tax advantages and implicit guarantees. In return for this taxpayer support, Congress should require a Farm Credit grant mandate of at least 10% of annual profits, which would amount to $730 million a year in grant funds. NSAC’s Farm Bill Platform recommends 15%, which would be over $1 billion a year.


Congressional News

Marking One Year of the Inflation Reduction Act

Wednesday, August 16 marked one year since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act. USDA released a fact sheet on what the landmark legislation has funded to date, including $300 million to quantify and track carbon sequestration and $850 million for EQIP, CSP, RCCP, and ACEP. NSAC also released a great blog summarizing 5 key things to know about the IRA’s investment in climate-smart agriculture. 

House and Senate Ag committee leaders are now locked in debate over how all $19.5 billion for farm bill conservation programs allocated in the IRA can be used to permanently bolster the farm bill baseline. Remember, the money appropriated in the IRA is currently a one-time increase meaning that once it is spent, it will not be available for future farm bills. Rolling the money into the farm bill would change this, making the money a permanent increase to the conservation baseline. 

Democrats, including Senate Ag Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, have held firm that if all $19.5 billion is rolled into the farm bill baseline, it must be used to bolster the farm bill conservation programs it was originally intended to. Republicans in the House and Senate, however, have suggested moving funds into other areas of the conservation title or even the commodities title. 

GT Thompson remarks on farm bill timing and nutrition title

House Ag Committee chair GT Thompson shared two important updates at the latest farm bill listening session at the Missouri state fair. 

One, an extension of the current farm bill is all but inevitable. Between competition for House floor time with all 12 appropriations bills and delays in CBO scoring, Thompson noted, “We’re probably going to need an extension. I hope it’s a very short extension.” 

Two, the nutrition title will remain in the farm bill, despite rumblings from conservatives wanting to strip federal nutrition programs into separate legislation. “First of all, it’s not going to happen in terms of splitting the nutrition title from the other 11 titles…That’s a line I want to hold. I take great pride in the fact that farmers feed [the nation] and nutrition matters. So, the most appropriate place for the nutrition title is in the farm bill,” said Thompson. 
Funders that have followed the farm bill in recent years will know that removing the nutrition title from the farm bill is in no way a new concept. The 2014 farm bill was delayed by this very suggestion, though the nutrition title was ultimately included. For more on the history of nutrition programs in the farm bill, we recommend Jonathan Coppess’s 2018 book, The Fault Lines of Farm Policy.

Administrative + Agency News

EPA denies petition for rulemaking on CAFO water pollution 

In 2017, Food Water Watch and other environmental advocacy groups petitioned EPA to adopt stricter water pollution regulations and require CAFOs to obtain permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Lax regulation of CAFOs under the CWA has indeed caused the release of vast quantities of manure and significantly harmed the water quality of surrounding BIPOC and rural communities. 

After six years and a lawsuit for unreasonable delay, EPA has denied the petition for rulemaking. Instead, EPA said that it will launch a comprehensive evaluation of potential

areas for improvement of the CWA NPDES regulatory program requirements for CAFOs and convene an Animal Agriculture and Water Quality (AAWQ) subcommittee under the existing Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee to hear from farmers, community groups, researchers, state agencies, and others about the most effective and efficient ways to reduce pollutants generated from CAFOs. 

Food Water Watch Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen said:

“Factory farms pose a significant and mounting threat to clean water, largely because EPA’s weak rules have left most of the industry entirely unregulated. EPA’s deeply flawed response amounts to yet more delay, and completely misses the moment. For more than 50 years, EPA has knowingly shirked its crystal clear obligation to regulate factory farms under the Clean Water Act. The lack of urgency displayed in EPA’s decision doubles down on the agency’s failure to protect our water, and those who rely on it — but the fight to safeguard clean water is far from over. We are considering all of our options moving forward.”

State Policy Update

Montana judge sides with youth in historic climate change lawsuit

In a landmark ruling, Montana First Judicial District Court judge Kathy Seeley found a provision of the Montana Environmental Policy Act barring state agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions or climate change when permitting large energy projects that require environmental reviews violates the Montana Constitution. The 16 youths that brought the suit argued that the provision violated their rights to a healthy environment, life, dignity, and freedom, as the Montana Constitution guarantees “a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.” This marks the first time a U.S. judge has determined through a trial that the right to environmental protection covers climate change. 

While the ruling will likely inspire similar lawsuits, only 6 other states guarantee the right to environmental protection in their constitutions.