House ag appropriations bill approved by committee – High Plains Journal
The House Appropriations Committee June 28 approved the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
The legislation funds important agricultural and food programs and services, including food and medical product safety, animal and plant health programs, rural development and farm services, agricultural trade, financial marketplace oversight and nutrition programs.
The bill totals $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million lower than the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, but $4.64 billion above President Donald Trump’s budget request. The legislation prioritizes this funding in programs for rural communities, farmers, ranchers, food and drug safety, and nutrition for those in need. In addition, the bill contains several policy provisions to rein in unnecessary and burdensome regulations that harm U.S. food producers and that impede growth in important U.S. industries.
Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-AL, admitted the bill is not in what he called “full agreement” with some of the Trump administration’s budget proposals to defund parts of the USDA Rural Development mission area or food aid programs.
“Acknowledging a shared responsibility to find savings, this bill was thoughtfully crafted providing needed resources that will continue to support rural America,” Aderholt said. “This bill reflects my commitment to that only five accounts in the bill received an increase over last year while the majority received significant reductions. These cuts have been targeted to prioritize resources and maximize savings.”
Aderholt highlighted the bill includes funding for Rural Development programs including water and wastewater loan and grant programs, several housing programs including section 502 direct loans for low-income buyers that were proposed for elimination and resources for programs operated by the Rural Business Cooperative Service. Resources have also been provided to ensure all Rental Assistance contracts that serve very low-income residents will be renewed as well.
The bill provides $2.8 billion to continue addressing research issues affecting agriculture, which will not only ensure the nation has a stable and abundant food supply, but also maintains the country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.
“We do not support the proposed closure of 17 research facilities included in the budget request, but direct USDA to prioritize research activities and reallocate vital research dollars from research efforts that have matured or where the objectives of the research have been met. The bill also provides continued investment is ARS buildings and facilities consistent with the ARS’ Capital Investment Strategy,” Aderholt said.
The bill provides targeted increases for animal and plant pests and diseases. In particular, it maintains funding to help address the devastating effects of citrus greening as well as the crisis in the poultry industry as a result of highly pathogenic avian influenza.
The bill provides funding for the new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs and the Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. The $1.6 billion for Farm Production and Conservation mission area ensures that local county Farm Service Agency offices will be fully staffed and farm loan programs meet current estimates of demand.
The Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs mission area receives $1.8 billion in funding to promote U.S. agricultural exports, and provides U.S. commodities to those in need overseas through the Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole International Food for Education programs.
The bill also provides $248 million for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a slight reduction compared to last year.
“This reduction is in line with nearly every agency in the bill, and the commission was not exempted. This decrease is targeted towards the growth in overhead and administrative staffing levels, which have increased in the past few years while the overall level of employees has decreased,” Aderholt said.
Resources for the Office of Chief Economist, Enforcement, and Market Oversight functions have been prioritized to ensure safe and sound financial markets, Aderholt said.
Meanwhile, subcommittee ranking member Sanford Bishop, D-GA, said that though Trump’s “draconian request” gave him severe concerns about what this bill would look like, he was pleased the Republican majority rejected so much of it outright.
“The bill provides mandatory funding for SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps, and child nutrition that is consistent with current estimates. And does it without including the onerous legislative proposals put forth in the budget request,” Bishop said.
“School kitchen grants are funded at $25 million: The administration’s request had zeroed them out. WIC is funded at the request level, which is slightly below the FY 17 level—based on USDA current estimates, this level should not have any negative impact on the program.”
Bishop was also pleased to see that the bill provides $1.4 billion for Food for Peace, which was zeroed out in the president’s request.
“McGovern-Dole is funded at $185 million: There was no funding for it in the request either. While both programs are below the FY 17 level, they are far above zero, and I hope that we will be able to work to increase funding for both as we go through this process,” Bishop said.
“A major area of bi-partisanship is that we did not abandon rural communities, as proposed, in the White House budget request. Instead, we came together to ensure important improvements to rural housing and rural water programs were added in this bill.”
While Bishop said there are things to praise in the appropriations bill, he said that praise came within the context of a lower allocation and a presidential request that Bishop said provided no leadership
“The 2018 allocation is 5 percent lower or $1.126 billion below the final 2017 number,” Bishop said. “Resulting in funding reductions being spread across program accounts to make them less painful.
“However, our communities need these programs more than ever and they need the necessary funding levels to be successful. Therefore, I look forward to us making improvements to this bill before it is signed into law.”
House Agriculture appropriations bill highlights
The legislation focuses funding on programs that bolster United States agriculture, support rural communities, maintain and promote food and drug safety, and provide nutrition for those in need.
In total, the bill allows for $144.9 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding—$4.6 billion above the president’s request and $8.5 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Discretionary funding alone provided by the bill is $20 billion, $876 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.
The bill provides $2.8 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This funding will support research at all ARS facilities to help mitigate and stop devastating crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, increase production and combat antimicrobial resistance. Continued investment in ARS’ buildings and facilities is included to ensure researchers have facilities needed for a safe, stable and abundant food supply. This funding also includes research investments in U.S. land-grant colleges and universities and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s premier competitive research program.
Animal and Plant Health
The legislation includes $906 million—$96 million above the president’s budget request and $40 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level—for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This funding will support programs to help control or eradicate plant and animal pests and diseases that can be crippling to U.S. producers. The funding level preserves previous funding increases, which will help address harmful outbreaks of citrus greening and highly pathogenic avian influenza, as well as funds to support specialty crops and the Zoonotic Disease Management Program for antimicrobial resistance activities.
The bill provides $904 million to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. This includes $45 million for infrastructure rehabilitation to help small communities meet current safety standards for watershed projects.
The legislation provides $1.6 billion for farm programs, which is $44 million above the president’s budget request. This funding will continue support for various farm, conservation and emergency loan programs, and will help American farmers and ranchers with the implementation of the farm bill. It will also ensure customer service through full staffing of local county Farm Service Agency offices and meet estimates of demand for farm loan programs.
The bill provides a total of $2.6 billion for rural development programs. These programs help create an environment for economic growth by supporting basic rural infrastructure, providing loans to increase opportunities for rural businesses and industries and helping balance the playing field in local rural housing markets.
Rural infrastructure grants
The bill includes $122.7 million to establish the Rural Economic Infrastructure Grant account. The account uses existing authorities from Community Connect grants, Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants, Community Facility grants and Rural Assistance Housing grants to provide flexibility on resource allocation to achieve maximum impact.
The legislation includes responsible investments in infrastructure to help rural areas of the country access basic utilities. This includes $1.25 billion—the same as the fiscal year 2017 enacted leve—for rural water and waste program loans, and $473 million for grants and related costs, a decrease of $96 million below current levels that includes savings from reduced subsidy costs and $473 million above the request. In addition, $6.94 billion is provided for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans, the same level as fiscal year 2017.
Housing loans, rental aid
The bill provides a total of $24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program, which is equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and the president’s request. In addition, the bill includes $900 million in direct loans. These loans provide low-income rural families—many of whom would have few loan options for purchasing a home because of their geographical location—with home loan assistance.
In addition, $1.345 billion is provided for rental assistance for affordable rental housing for low-income families and the elderly in rural communities for renewal of all existing rental assistance contracts.
Business, industry loans
The legislation includes a loan level of $819 million for the rural business and industry loan program. This funding will help small businesses in rural areas, many of which face unique challenges due to local economic conditions.
Food Safety and Inspection Service
The legislation includes $1.038 billion for food safety and inspection programs—an increase of $6 million above the 2017 enacted level. These mandatory inspection activities help ensure the safety and productivity of the country’s $211 billion meat and poultry industry, and keep safe, healthy food on American tables. The funding provided will maintain more than 8,000 frontline inspection personnel for meat, poultry and egg products at more than 6,400 facilities across the country.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Included in the bill is $248 million for the CFTC, $2 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and the president’s budget request. This funding level will ensure robust swaps, futures and options markets while prioritizing resources and giving flexibility for enforcement and market oversight.
The legislation contains $1.8 billion for overseas food aid and to promote U.S. agricultural exports. This includes $1.4 billion for “Food for Peace” grants and $185 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. These programs seek to reduce chronic hunger and increase food security by providing American-grown food, transported by U.S. ships, to foreign countries in need of aid.
Food and nutrition programs
The legislation contains discretionary funding, as well as mandatory funding required by law, for food and nutrition programs within the Department of Agriculture. This includes funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and child nutrition programs.
Women, Infants and Children—The bill provides $6.15 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, which is $200 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and the same as the president’s request. Because of robust prior-year funding and declining enrollments in the program, WIC has large carryover balances left over from previous years. To make the best use of taxpayer dollars, the bill rescinds $600 million in these unobligated balances, which will have no impact on participation in the program.
Child nutrition programs—The bill provides for $24.28 billion in required mandatory funding, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee, for child nutrition programs. This is $1.5 billion above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This funding will provide free or reduced-price school lunches and snacks for 31 million children who qualify for the program. The bill provides approximately $640 million for the Summer Food Service Program to ensure low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. In addition, the bill continues funding for a pilot program that provides additional funds through SNAP or WIC electronic benefit transfer cards to ensure children in underserved communities receive food during the summer months.
The bill continues policy provisions to stop regulations on local schools, which cost them money and resources in an already tight budget climate. Some of these provisions include: A provision that allows schools demonstrating a financial hardship to seek an exemption from the whole grain nutrition standards; a provision that prevents further implementation of sodium reduction standards; and a provision that provides schools with flexibility in serving low-fat flavored milk.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—The bill provides for $73.6 billion in required mandatory spending, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee, for SNAP. This is $4.87 billion below last year’s level and $2.6 million below the president’s budget request, reflecting declining enrollment and a decrease in food costs. The total includes $3 billion for the SNAP reserve fund, equal to the president’s request, which is used to cover any unexpected participation increases.
Provisions are also included to increase congressional oversight of administrative activities and expenses, such as nutrition research and evaluations.