At Cultivate’14, Immigration, Regulatory and Health Care Info You Need To Know, provided growers, retailers and other industry members with a snapshot of information on the Affordable Care Act, immigration laws and the Farm Bill and how they could be impacted.
Craig Regelbrugge and Joseph Bischoff of AmericanHort, along with Wayne Mertel of Digital Insurance, gave the update on urgent legislative issues.
2014 Farm Bill
The 2014 Farm Bill will provide $1 trillion over 10 years. While 79 percent of the funds will go toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), there will be $1.8 billion allocated for the following programs:
- Pest and disease management
- National Clean Plant Network
- Specialty Crop Block Grant
- Voluntary plant production certification program
Neonics: An important Debate
Bees add economic value to products and as much as 30 percent of our food crops rely on bees, Bischoff says. They account for $15 billion in added crop value.
However, the media can sometimes offer a slanted view of the role neonicotinoids play in bee health. In actuality, there are a number of factors affecting bees, including:
- queen failure
- beekeeping practices
- varroa mites
- genetic weaknesses
- diminishing habitats
“We’re being pointed at a lot, but we’re part of the solution,” Bischoff says.
Part of the solution is to develop public and private partnerships, something Bischoff says AmericanHort is doing the with the USDA. Supporting research and developing a stewardship program are other pieces necessary for a solution. Bischoff says they have to be ready by next season to deal with the issue.
Currently, members of the industry can visit the AmericanHort Knowledge Center for articles and information to learn more.
“It’s about educating the industry, making sure we’re armed and ready to answer questions,” Bischoff says.
With a plan in place, the next step is to put together a task force, something the organizations are currently working on.
Healthcare Reform Update
There have been several good things to come out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), says Mertel. Some of those include:
- everyone having health care coverage
- removal of pre-existing conditions
- coverage for adult children until age 26
- coverage for preventative wellness
So far, there have not been any major updates in 2014 regarding the ACA; however, there could be some changes following the election, says Mertel.
The employer mandate that would penalize businesses that do not offer health insurance has been delayed for 2014. It will resume in 2015 for businesses with more than 100 employees, and in 2016 for those with 51 to 99 employees. The dollar amounts of the individual mandate penalties will increase between 2015 and 2017.
Plan non-discrimination laws will impact who has to be covered by an employer, particularly if employers currently cover some employees and not others, such as seasonal employees.
According to Mertel, a potential change to be aware of is the 40-hour definition of a full-time work week. The ACA first defined full-time as 30 hours. At the moment, it is still 30 hours, but Mertel says he anticipates it will be changed to 35 hours per week.
Another possible change is the elimination of the employer mandate. The penalty aspect of the mandate threatens the viability of some businesses; however, Mertel says the mandate would generate $130 billion over 10 years.
In other health care news, Mertel says there is a private exchange model surfacing, and he is anticipating that some of his clients will move to it. In that scenario, the employer would set the budget and the employee would choose their coverage.
“It’s a win-win,” Mertel says.
Mertel also discussed “skinny plans,” which would offer employees minimum essential coverage. It’s an affordable way for employers to avoid the employer mandate penalty. The target cost of “skinny plans” are between $125 and $200 per month, per employee. However, if an employee offers a “skinny plan” as an option, it makes them ineligible for an exchange subsidy.
One-half to three-quarters of the labor force in the U.S. are here with papers “that look better than they actually are,” Regelbrugge says. Meanwhile, there is a flood of unaccompanied minors coming into our system, and we have no resources to react.
The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill a year ago, and while the House committee has considered pieces of the bill, the issue is at a standstill, Regelbrugge says.
Some of the things President Barack Obama is capable of doing to change immigration laws are to shift resources and priorities to deal with the issue, give discretion with respect to deportaitons and tweak the administration of visa programs. He cannot increase visa numbers, which are set by Congress, and cannot grant legal states.
Regelbrugge says some strategies for industry members to address the issue include continuing to press for legislative action and to defend the H-2A and H-2B programs.