CONGRESS DELIVERS H-2B VISA “CAP RELIEF,” ELD FLEXIBILITY IN OMNIBUS BILL
March 23, 2018
Shortly after 12:30 am, on Friday, March 23, Congress approved a massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 to fund federal government operations through September 30. The 2,232 page bill includes several regulatory measures that will provide flexibility for the horse industry, most notably H-2B visa cap relief for seasonal, guest workers and a temporary enforcement exemption for the transportation of livestock from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) regulations. The legislation also includes policy “riders” to defund Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs that will impact the equine sector and broader agriculture economy.
Lawmakers Raise the Ceiling on H-2B Guest-Worker Visas:
Despite opposition from a large number of lawmakers from both political parties, the horse industry and its allies persuaded Congress to effectively raise the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) cap on H-2B temporary worker visas from the current cap of 66,000 to 129,500 visas for FY2018. A provision tying the number of H-2B visas to a number not to exceed the maximum number of participants from the returning worker program in a previous year has effectively doubled the number of visas the agency may issue in 2018. Because of the fast approaching seasonal labor needs for breeding farms, race tracks, and other seasonal employers, AHC and its partners are urging DHS to implement the flexibility measures as quickly as possible to mitigate paperwork bottlenecks during the remainder of the year. Other key H-2B provisions include acceptance of private wage surveys to determine “prevailing wage” requirements, and language that defines “seasonal need” as a 10-month period within the context of the program. The coalition has already begun to focus efforts on creating permanent cap relief in future legislative vehicles. This would decouple the H-2B visa issue from the annual appropriations process and create an environment of investment certainty.
Congress Delays ELD Enforcement for Livestock to September 30:
On the heels of the DOT’s March 13 issuance of an additional 90-day exemption from ELD enforcement requirements for livestock, the bill includes a provision that would defund enforcement to at least September 30, which is the official end of the fiscal year. The delay will provide DOT and industry stakeholders more time to educate livestock haulers on the proper scope of the ELD mandate, which has caused uncertainty since being finalized in late 2015. Furthermore, industry’s September 2017 request to push back the compliance deadline by a full year is still outstanding, leaving the possibility of another enforcement delay for livestock.
Lawmakers Fully Fund Tax Law Implementation, Defund Horse Slaughter Inspections, EPA Ag Emission and Reporting Rules:
In a rare move to increase resources for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Congress appropriated an additional $320 million through September 2019 for the nation’s tax collectors to help assure a smooth implementation of the 2017 tax law. The omnibus also includes a rider that bans funding of USDA personnel to inspect horses prior to slaughter, a provision which lawmakers have renewed within multiple spending bills during previous years to effectively shut down horse slaughter in the U.S. On the EPA front, the bill also defunds enforcement of rules that would do the following:
- Mandate the reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from decomposing animal waste located on farms;
- And reporting air emissions from farms resulting from hazardous substances, pursuant to the nation’s Superfund law.
AHC will deliver updates on more details within the 2018 omnibus spending package that impact the horse industry as they emerge. To view a copy of the 2232 page bill, please click here: https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20180319/BILLS-115SAHR1625-RCP115-66.pdf. If you have questions about FY2018 appropriations, please contact Bryan Brendle, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at email@example.com.